It wasn’t just a case of round up the usual suspects. It was round up everybody and anybody, suspect or no.
Forty years after the introduction of internment without trial, a group of ex-internees is preparing to take legal action against the British government.
On Tuesday, the 40th anniversary of the morning the internment raids began on August 9, 1971, six former internees handed over writs to British Secretary of State Owen Paterson at Stormont as they, and others, prepare to indict the British government for the disastrous strategy.
The following year, 1972, was to be the bloodiest year of the Troubles and internment has long been viewed as a spark that ignited a fire that would last for well over two decades.
The six, including a mother whose two children were taken into care of Social Services while she was interned – have high hopes that the civil action will prove successful.
The group is being assisted by republican ex-prisoners group, Coiste na nIarchimí, and its members have been working with a legal team as they prepare to mount what looks set to be a monumental and historic case.
During the dawn raids of that first morning of internment, hundreds of homes were raided by the British army whose soldiers swept in and arrested, under the Special Powers Act, people suspected of being involved in the republican movement. Over 2,000 people were interned without trial during the four years the policy was active. Many were tortured and beaten. The vast majority were nationalists, many of them unconnected with the political upheavals that were sweeping the North at the time.
Official documents uncovered recently released under the 30-year rule, show that the searches and arrests were entirely indiscriminate and the army was instructed to arrest any adult they came across in the house if they could not apprehend the person they had intended to detain.
The once-confidential British documents also describe August 9, 1971 as “D Day” and show that as early as 1973, questions were being asked as to why only the Catholic community was being targeted.
The legal challenge being taken is inspired by a case involving Kenyan ex-prisoners from that country’s Mau Mau rebellion that is currently going through the British courts.
“The London firm working on the Kenyan case is giving support and guidance and we have a local solicitor working on it here. We also hope that some barristers will take on the case,” said Jim McVeigh of Coiste.
“The legality of internment of persons brought under both the Special Powers Act of 1922 and the Detention of Terrorist Order 1972 has been brought into fresh focus by the recent release of official papers under the 30-year rule,” said Belfast solicitor, Pádraig Ó Muirigh, who is taking the case.