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                                                Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - Gerry Kelly (born 1955)
Gerry Kelly was born and educated in Belfast. He joined the IRA in 1973 and the following year, together with Marian and Delores Price and Hugh Feeney, was charged with causing explosions and conspiracy to cause explosions in England. He was tried at the Old Bailey and received two life sentences plus twenty years. Kelly and the others immediately commenced a hunger-strike for repatriation to a gaol in Northern Ireland. After 205 days, during which time Kelly was violently force-fed 170 times, the British government conceded to his demand and he was transferred to Long Kesh in April, 1975.
In Long Kesh Kelly went 'on the Blanket' and made attempts to escape in 1977 and 1982. In 1983 he, together with thirty-seven others republican prisoners, escaped from Long Kesh, in what was the largest prison break-out in Europe since the Second World War.
In 1986 Kelly and Brendan MacFarlane were arrested in Holland and extradited to the United Kingdom. Kelly was imprisoned in Long Kesh until 1989. After his release Kelly published a collection of poetry Words from A Cell (1989) composed in several prisons. He participated in the peace negotiations throughout the 1990's and is a member of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle and the Legislative Assembly of Northern Ireland for North Belfast.
This extract is from Kelly's submission to the Dutch Courts against his extradition in 1986.©
Gerry Kelly
Gerry Kelly


At the end of 1975 the British Government formulated a political policy which they hoped would strengthen their grip on North East Ireland and defeat the Republican Movement. This policy became known as the 'Ulsterisation' Programme. It had three main components: Ulsterisation, Depoliticisation and Criminalisation.
'Ulsterisation' was taken almost directly from the American policy of 'Vietnamisation'. In essence the British Government were afraid of the Anti-War Movement in America which was a strong factor in the American withdrawal in Vietnam. The reasoning being that if the number of casualties among British soldiers serving in Ireland reached an unacceptable level for British public opinion then they might be forced to withdraw under such public pressure.
The government answer to this problem was, as far as possible, to change the 'front line' troops in Ireland from regular soldiers to Ulster Defence regiment soldiers and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (both composed of local loyalists) with the British Army as back-up. The 'official' title for this was the 'Supremacy of the police'. Both the RUC and the UDR were greatly increased in numbers, both being loyalist and sectarian in make-up. However, since they were both local, (ie, from the Six Counties) the British government believed, rightly perhaps, that the British public wouldn't care how many were killed or wounded since the British public were already convinced that the war was simply between two 'crazy' religious groups. A myth that British official propaganda and mass media perpetuate.
'Depoliticisation' was, as it says, to depoliticise or obstensibly remove politics from a very political situation. This was to a great extent the propaganda war. The whole of British propaganda went through a change. It was basically the politics of linguistics. A new series of words were introduced in public statements, pamphlets, interviews. It was soon taken up by the media: 'Godfathers, Mafia, gansters, mindless murders, psychopathic killers, Al Capone style shoot-outs, criminals, gangs, racketeers' etc. If the Brit army, RUC or UDR shot anyone, no matter what age or in what circumstances it was referred to as either an 'accidental shooting', or at worst 'killing'. But if any of the Crown Forces (RUC, UDR and army) were killed then the vocabulary from the criminal world was used. If any of the Crown Forces was killed, a run-down of age, marital status and relatives and children was included in statements, but this seldom happened for republicans killed. There was a concerted attempt to link the Irish Republican Army with international terrorism.
Because there was a number of very small groups in Europe carrying out bombings, who had no support base among ordinary people, the British tried to push the revulsion felt at hi-jacking, etc on the republicans. They had claimed, falsely, all along of course that the Republican Movement was a tiny group without support. This was later shown to the world to be utter nonsense.
The third component part was 'Criminalisation'. This was closely allied to depoliticisation but most particularly involved the republican prisoners. Although at first the British authorities may have believed it to have been the easiest to implement since they could, they thought, break prisoners one at a time as the courts filtered them through. In fact it turned out to be the most publicised and incredible struggle to date between the British government and the Irish Nationalist people. The British authorities arbitrarily chose a date (March 1st, 1976). They said that anyone charged with any offence from that date onwards would be classed a criminal. Political status would be given only to those who committed offenses before March 1st. Besides the paradox that 'criminalisation' was a very political decision on behalf of the British government it caused some bizarre anomalies. Bobby Sands had served a sentence as a political prisoner in the Long Kesh cages. After release he rejoined his IRA unit, was captured on a similar charge and proclaimed a 'criminal'. This was true for many men and women...
The struggle in the H-Blocks became an epic one which started when the first republican prisoner was sentenced for an offence which had occurred after March 1st, 1976. He refused to wear a criminal uniform and went on protest, hundreds followed his example. My comrade, Brendan McFarlane can explain that struggle in much more detail than I, as he was there in the H-Blocks during most of the protest and became commanding officer of the republican prisoners of war. But I will say that the H-Blocks have become infamous, they are a byword for systemised brutality.
In Armagh Jail also many republican women prisoners joined their comrades on protest where they faced humiliation, degradation and beatings for years. Even today constant strip-searching is used in prison to degrade and dehumanise our comrades there. The British government believed that if it concentrated on that section of the Republican Movement which was imprisoned, it could break those prisoners by getting them to accept their own 'criminality', then the struggle for national independence could be portrayed as a 'criminal conspiracy'.
As throughout history they misjudged the commitment of Irish men and women to stand by their beliefs and principles. Ten men were forced to death by hunger-strike because the British colonialists wanted to prove a lie. It wasn't just the lie that political prisoners were 'criminal', the British were trying to prove that the armed struggle of the Irish people against a foreign oppressor was criminal. It was and is an impossible task. You cannot criminalise a population or a race of people.
© Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008


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