Trade Unions must oppose supergrasses

Militant Irish Monthly Editorial Board statement

Militant Irish Monthly, March 1984, No. 119
The system of conviction on the basis of the evidence of paid supergrasses practiced by the British government in the North has not a shred of credibility left. Huge sums have been given to bribe people to give evidence which is then the sole basis for convictions. So far the state has refused to supply courts the details of these financial inducements.

Despite the fact that a number of potential supergrasses have retracted, there are no signs that the government intend to scrap this monstrous perversion of justice. It is a scandal that prisoners are being held in remand for periods of two years and longer. In effect some people have already served the equivalent of four year sentences purely on the say so of a paid informant and without even the courtesy of a trial.

Repression of this character is a class issue which is a potential threat to the labour movement. It must be opposed by the trade unions and broad labour movement organisations.

A hunger strike against the supergrass system has been threatened by INLA remand prisoners. This desperate measure would not have been proposed if the trade union movement had used its strength to force the government to stop convictions on the evidence of supergrasses.

Past experience has shown that campaigns against repression based on only one side of the sectarian divide do not succeed. The danger of this hunger strike, especially given the sectarian nature of the INLA's propaganda, is that it will heighten tensions and confuse the issue of the supergrasses with sectarianism.

The basis for a class campaign by the trade union movement to unite workers against the use of supergrasses, against internment by remand and against repressive legislation, now exists. Belfast and Derry Trades Councils have come out in opposition to the supergrass system. So has the Northern Ireland group of backbench Labour MPs. The Northern Ireland Committee of ICTU has also demanded the ending of this system and the repeal of the Emergency Provisions Act.

What is required is the turning of this verbal opposition into a campaign to force the Tories to end the use of supergrasses. This is what a motion from Derry Trades Council to this year's NIC of ICTU Conference is demanding.

The possibility of a hunger strike makes such action by the trade unions all the more urgent to ensure that the initiative on the question is not seized by sectarian groups who would use the opportunity to divide the working class and weaken the trade unions.

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