The Socialist Party, repression and prisoners’ rights

An article on the website of the “Republican Network for Unity” has attacked the Socialist Party. This short statement has been issued to categorically refute the allegations made in the article against the Socialist Party.

The article makes the serious allegation that we ignore the abuse of the rights of prisoners in Northern Ireland. It also, by distortion and false association, tries to link the Socialist Party to what it states is a specific campaign of abuses being implemented in Maghaberry prison currently, which it claims is being driven by the Prison Officers Association (POA).

The Socialist Party believes the prison system to be part of a state apparatus that is used against working class people and the organised labour and trade union movement and the Socialist Party condemns any prison officer who abuses or mistreats any prisoner.

Neither the Socialist Party in Ireland, nor our sister organisation in Britain, has any control over or responsibility for what happens in the prisons of Northern Ireland, nor for the actions of prison officers or the POA in the North.

The fact is that the Socialist Party and our forerunner Militant have a long record of fighting repression and defending prisoners’ rights going right back to our opposition to the entry of British troops onto the streets of Belfast and Derry in 1969.

The Socialist Party opposes all the repressive measures of the British and Irish states, including deliberately oppressive prison regimes. The Socialist Party unequivocally condemns any brutality towards or maltreatment of any prisoner. We campaign on issues of repression and the rights of prisoners in our public work and throughout the trade union movement.

In recent times the Socialist Party has called for the release of Marian Price from prison; opposed the imprisonment without trial and effective internment of other prisoners, both Loyalist and Republican,  via the revoking of licences; and opposed the use of supergrasses and non-jury courts. In 2012 our members proposed a motion to the NIPSA conference which was adopted by the union and called for the release of Marian Price and for an end to supergrass trials which at that time were aimed primarily against Loyalist groups, and which also condemned the actions of all paramilitary groups. Recently we have opposed the use of plastic baton rounds against both Republican demonstrators and Loyalist flag protestors.

The Socialist Party is also opposed to all forms of paramilitarism and individual terrorism. Poverty, sectarianism and injustice can only be overcome through a united struggle by Catholic and Protestant working class people against capitalism and for a better life for all. Paramilitarism and acts of individual terror, including those by republican groups, serve to strengthen the state, as they are used as an excuse or pretext for increased powers of repression.

At the same time we argue that prison officers are entitled to representation and to be members of trade unions with full trade union rights. In England a number of activists in the POA have joined the Socialist Party in recent years. Socialist Party members in the POA have, along with other POA activists, campaigned to improve prisoners’ rights. For us ensuring that the rights of prisoners are not breached in any circumstances must be a key aspect of the POA’s programme.

In our view it is a positive development that the POA is playing an important role in the struggle against austerity. It was the POA that moved the motion passed at the 2012 TUC general congress calling for the TUC to consider a 24 hour general strike against austerity, and the POA is at the forefront of the campaign to demand that the TUC sets the date for a general strike.

The allegations made by the RNU against the Socialist Party are baseless. They are a dishonest and deliberate attempt to damage us. Such an approach will not distract us from our campaigning work, North and South, against the vicious austerity attacks of the Assembly and of the governments in London and Dublin. We will continue to campaign against repression in all its forms, through our public material and through the workers movement, as we have done consistently for forty years.

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