Resistance to imperialism inside and outside prisons in Ireland. Speech at AIF Symposium

The speech by Nathan Hastings (IRSP) from Ireland at the 20th AIF’s Symposium held in Athens in October, 2022.


We would like to begin by thanking the organisers of this anti-imperialist symposium for inviting us to be here today. We would also like to thank the other participants for their company and contributions. We extend our solidarity to the Turkish political prisoners being held in various countries, and to all prisoners throughout the world who have lost their liberty as a result of their commitment to fighting for just causes.

Firstly, I will give a brief overview of resistance to imperialism inside, and outside the prisons, in Ireland and in particular relating to the Irish Republican Socialist Movement.

Ireland’s history of dealing with occupation, colonialism and imperialism is extensive, stretching back centuries. Throughout our history the people of Ireland used various means of resistance, whilst the English used an array of cruel and oppressive measures to subdue us. Imprisonment for the English has been a key tool in their arsenal. The history of political imprisonment in Ireland is a matter on which great volumes have been written. I do not intend to offer a history, but rather to extract from this the key lessons that we can learn today as anti-imperialists who continue to see the use of imprisonment as a means of subduing the fight for freedom.

The most relevant lessons for us are those of the 20th Century and in the past decades. To understand the use of imprisonment as a tool of oppression in Ireland and to relate this to the struggles faced by revolutionary prisoners today, I must outline some history. In 1916 there was a rising in Ireland, known as the Easter Rising. The rising was ultimately subdued by the British, it initially had very little support, but this changed when the leaders of the rising were executed by the British by firing squad. Many of the Republicans who had taken part in the rising and were captured were taken to an internment camp in Wales where they were held without trial. Some years after the Rising, the Tan War was launched by Irish Republican forces against the British, during this period too Republicans were imprisoned, isolated, tortured, executed and also died on Hunger Strike. Already in this period we see the use of imprisonment, internment and execution in captivity.

The Tan War concluded when a portion of the Republican forces accepted an agreement that Ireland would be partitioned in; in 1921 it came to be that out of Ireland’s 32 counties six were to remain under British control, while the other 26 were to be ruled by a pro-British puppet government. Many Republicans disagreed with this and continued the struggle, there was a civil war in which the British-backed traitors defeated the Republicans. The six counties which Britain had kept were ruled by the descendants of planters that Britain had sent there mainly in the 1600s, they were Protestants loyal to Britain, and they were determined to treat Catholics as second-class citizens. Catholics could not get jobs, education, housing or political representation. In the 1960s Catholics began a civil rights campaign, this was repressed brutally by the British-backed state, while the Irish government of the other 26 counties remained passive. The Republican forces who had made several attempts to rebuild a campaign since the Civil War suddenly found their numbers swelled by those who were angered at the British response to the Civil Rights campaign. The existing prison system could not contain the numbers arrested, and they were held instead in large camps, especially after the introduction of interment in 1971 when mass arrests were carried out. These camps, known as the cages, held prisoners in bad conditions; when Republican prisoners rioted and burned the cages in 1974 they were exposed by the British to an agent known as CR Gas, and still today those who were affected by that gas suffer from cancer and other illnesses linked to it.

By the mid-1970s the British government and its puppet state wanted Republican prisoners to be taken out of the cages. The cages appeared too much like Prisoner of War camps and at the time the British wanted to portray the struggle as a criminal conspiracy. They wanted too to treat Republican prisoners as criminals. It was around this same period that our movement was formed- the Irish Republican Socialist Movement. The movement was committed to anti-imperialism and Socialism. With Republican prisoners being pushed into cellular confinement in the new H-Block prison structures, expected to wear prison uniform and to be treated as criminals, prisoners of the Republican Socialist Movement like those in the Provisional Movement began refusing to conform. Over the following years the prison struggle was to see prisoners from our movement held in horrible conditions: they were attacked as they used toilets so they began to wipe their excrement on the walls, they refused to wear prison uniform so they were wrapped only in blankets, they were confined to their cells, with only a lump of sponge to sleep on, their windows were broken so they were often freezing cold and they were routinely beaten and violated. In 1981 Ten Hunger Strikers died in opposition to these conditions, including three from our movement. Some of those in our movement were imprisoned with these men at the time and remember vividly the horrors which they witnessed.

Conditions steadily improved in the decades following in the H-Blocks; however, in 1998 an agreement was made by the Provisional Movement, bourgeois nationalists and the British government. The agreement was heralded as a ‘Peace Agreement’ but it brought no relief from imperialism or capitalism. The H-Blocks were closed down, and Republican prisoners were once again told that they would have to go into the general population. This resulted in riots and struggle within Maghaberry prison in the north of Ireland in the early 2000s, ultimately prisoners were given segregation, but the regime in place there today for Republican prisoners remains one of the strictest in Europe. I personally spent five years in this prison; where we were subjected to forced strip searches, a degrading controlled movement regime and where I saw other Republicans isolated.

The above outlines many of the repressive measures faced by anti-imperialist prisoners in Ireland: however, it more importantly demonstrates the history of resistance within the prisons, using death fasts in particular.

In terms of forms of resistance outside the prisons; it is theoretically obvious that Vladimir Lenin laid down the necessary founds for the movement of anti-imperialism. In practice too his vision has proven correct. We must build a bulwark against imperialism, which manifests at present in globalist neoliberalism seeking to break down sovereign borders to exploit the world without impediment. While key anti-imperialist forces today continue to stymie, repel and counter-advance on the force of imperialism; it is the building of anti-imperialist states and governments which have prevented the imperialist forces. In this regard we are wasting no time in Ireland. While the west is filled with self-gratifying role players who wear anti-imperialism as a costume, we are determined to achieve power for the working class, to build a revolutionary state, and to actively challenge on a global scale the imperialists.

Let us endeavour comrades to achieve this together.

Victory to the prisoners

Saoirse Go Deo

You may also like

Comments are closed.

More in:Symposiums