Couple of things brought to my attention. The first is the case of Christy Walsh, a citizen of this republic, who in 1991 was stopped on a street in his hometown of Belfast by members of the British Army’s infamous Parachute Regiment and accused of carrying a “coffee-jar-bomb”; a hand-thrown improvised grenade deployed by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army against the UK Forces. Despite the obvious lack of forensic evidence and clear inconsistencies in the case, a British no-jury counter-insurgency court convicted Walsh of possessing an explosive device and sentenced him in 1992 to a fourteen year prison sentence. Released in 1998 he went on to appeal his conviction several times, uncovering evidence that the British soldiers had falsified their accounts of his detention and search, eventually gaining success in 2010 when the Court of Appeal had no choice but to overturn his original 1992 sentence. The Pensive Quill, the website of the former republican activist and author Anthony McIntyre, has charted Christy’s decision to engage in a hunger-strike to publicise and protest his original arrest, trial and imprisonment. So far he has received scant recognition from either the British or northern regional authorities for what he endured and certainly no compensation.
The second case is that of sixty-seven year old Michael Burns from North Belfast, a former Volunteer of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army, who is gravely ill with a terminal condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD). Burns, who was resident in this part of the country from 1977 to 2003, was in receipt of a letter from the British government stating that he was free to return to the city of his birth and would face no legal action for his activities during the 1966-2005 conflict. This letter was one of hundreds issued to Republican activists by the UK authorities as part of bilateral confidence-building measures during the peace process of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now the British are reneging on the carefully negotiated understandings that formed the basis of the Belfast Agreement of 1998, the multiparty documents that brought some three decades of war in the north-eastern corner of Ireland to an end. Instead they have launched a campaign of retrospective vengeance on former guerilla opponents, men and women who are now in their 50s, 60s and 70s, attempting to do through British counter-insurgency courts what they were incapable of doing on the battlefield during the conflict itself. The very real danger that such actions risk destroying the political progress of the last two decades seems to matter not a whit in the corridors of power, either in Belfast or London. Imprisoning pensioners and the terminally ill is more important. Veteran journalist and author Ed Moloney has more over on the Broken Elbow.