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To mark the anniversary of the introduction of internment without trial in Northern Ireland in 1971, the University of Westminster and the Centre for Contemporary British History at Kings’ College London, will host a witness seminar from 11am  - 4pm on Monday 25 July 2011.

Witnesses will include former internees, civil servants, members of the security forces and local politicians.  This important event will be of interest to historians, students, journalists and policy-makers alike, and all of those who are interested in contemporary debates about human rights, intelligence, counter-insurgency and security policy.

In August 1971, the devolved Stormont administration introduced internment without trial in Northern Ireland.  The UK government reluctantly agreed to this radical step, in the face of escalating violence from paramilitary groups, in particular the Provisional IRA.  Internment was regarded as a drastic but necessary step as law and order was on the brink of collapse.  It had worked before on both sides of the border against republican insurgents, while similar extraordinary steps had been taken in the UK against domestic fascists in World War II.

However, rather than leading to a reduction of political violence, internment was accompanied by the escalation of bombing, assassination, sectarian murder and street disorder.  Barely six months passed before the Stormont administration was abolished, and the experiment in local self-government for the province was placed in cold storage.

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Gerry O’Hare was born in Belfast in 1940.  In the 1960s, he was a member of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and a founder member of the Belfast branch of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.   He was also a member of the People’s Democracy movement and subsequently a well-known Belfast Republican.   In August 1971, he was arrested and interrogated, during which time he was beaten by soldiers and members of the RUC.   He was subsequently brought to Crumlin Road gaol after being served with a detention order.  He was released in December 1971 on compassionate grounds after his wife, an IRA activist, was shot and seriously wounded by soldiers during an IRA operation.  He was subsequently sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in Northern Ireland in August 1972 and another sentence for IRA membership in the Republic of Ireland.  He became editor of An Phoblacht in December 1974 serving in this position until June 1975 when he resigned.  He later became a staff reporter and Dáil reporter with the Irish Press group of newspapers reaching the position of Deputy News Desk Editor.

Paddy Joe McLean was born in 1933 in West Tyrone.  He was first interned during the IRA border campaign in the 1950s, and was held for four years in Crumlin Road prison.  He turned away from political violence, viewing it as futile, and was a founder member and later chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.  Nevertheless he was interned again in 1971 and was one of the ‘hooded men’.  He was released a year later, and successfully took action for damages against the British government. 

Francie McGuigan was born in Belfast in 1948.  He was active in the civil rights and republican movements, coming as he did from a staunchly republican family.  He was interned on 9th August 1971, and held for two days in Girdwood Barracks, where he was hooded, before being taken to an unknown destination by helicopter.  He remained hooded for seven days. He escaped from Long Kesh internment camp in February 1972.  In October 1976, he was award £12,000 compensation by the British government, because of his treatment while interned, while still ‘on the run’ for having escaped lawful custody.

Jim Auld was born in Belfast in 1951 into a traditionally Republican family.  He was arrested on 9 August 1971 and was interned in the first instance for a year, and subjected to hooding, beating,  ‘white noise’, deprivation of food and drink and ‘wall-standing’ (in his case, for forty-three hours).  He was held for a year before being released into a psychiatric institution because of repeated blackouts.  He was awarded £16,000 compensation in 1974, when again in police custody, and then re-interned for a second year.  Upon his release, he worked as a volunteer for the Samaritans for twenty-five years and has been involved in a number of youth groups for vulnerable young people who had come to the attention of armed groups.

Kevin Hannaway was born in Belfast in 1947 into a traditionally republican family.  He was arrested on the first day of internment and held for four years, being only one of two internees held for the entire period of the policy.  He was hooded for seven days, beaten and thrown from a helicopter.

Joe Clarke was born in Belfast in 1952.  He was arrested on 9th August 1971, and kept hooded for seven days.  He was awarded £12,500 compensation by the High Court in 1974, against the Ministry of Defence and the former Northern Ireland Ministry of Home Affairs.  He was immediately re-interned and held for another year.

Austin Currie was Nationalist Party MP for East Tyrone in the old Stormont parliament between 1964 and 1972.  He inspired the seminal housing protest at Caledon and was a high profile member of the Civil Rights movement and a founder member of the SDLP.  His party withdrew all cooperation with the Northern Ireland state because of internment, and encouraged a rent and rates strike in protest at it.  Following the Sunningdale Agreement, Austin Currie became Minister for Housing, Local Government and Planning in the power-sharing Executive.  He subsequently pursued a political career in the Republic of Ireland and is the only politician to have served in executive capacities on both sides of the border.

Kevin McNamara was a Labour MP for almost 40 years. Liverpool Irish, he joined the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster on 31 January 1966, the day he took his seat in the Commons. An organiser of the Labour backbench revolt against internment along with Stan Orme, he acted as a teller in the vote, 23 September 1971, when the Labour Party Frontbench officially abstained.  Thereafter he was critical of the Labour leadership's bipartisan approach to the 'Troubles'.  He later became Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland under both Neil Kinnock and John Smith. Tony Blair's replacement of him by Mo Mowlem marked a change in policy as Blair sought to move Labour's policy of advocating unity by consent to one of neutrality, thus facilitating interparty agreement in Northern Ireland, a change already set in train by McNamara.

Jack Sheldon completed a thirty-five year career as a member of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment.   He did four tours of duty in Northern Ireland: three emergency tours and one residential tour, based at Ballykinlar.  He was stationed in Belfast during the post-internment period from December 1971 to Mar 1972.   At the time he was a lieutenant and platoon commander in A Company 1 QLR based at Finiston School on the Old Park Road above the Ardoyne.  At that time the company was responsible for the Catholic 'Bone', the protestant 'Rivers' area and the Louisa Street Peace Line.

Sir Ken Bloomfield was born in Belfast in 1931.  He joined the Northern Ireland Civil Service in 1952 and had a long and distinguished career in that organisation, retiring as its Head.  At the time of the introduction of intenrment, he was Deputy Secretary to the Northern Ireland Cabinet.  In 1997, he became the Northern Ireland Victims' Commissioner.

Patrick Mercer MP  is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Newark.  Previously he had a long career in the Army, and served nine tours of duty in Northern Ireland.  He is a military historian, and former BBC defence reporter.  He is currently a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee and Chairman of the House of Commons Sub-Committee on Counter-Terrorism.

There is no charge for attendance, those wish to come should register by following this link.

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Enquiries: Dr Martin Doherty, History Subject Area, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW, 020 7911 5800 x2141, [email protected].