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Civil Rights Vets Launch Status Campaign
In August, the October Fifth (1968 Civil Rights Veterans & Supporters) Association, (OFA), based on previous discussions and activity, pledged to establish a FULL STATUS NOW CAMPAIGN (FSNC).

Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh

This project was rooted in long-standing concern for the plight of republican prisoners in various jails. It gained even deeper significance as a result of the recent controversy surrounding the terms for compassionate parole granted to Mr. Ciaran McLaughlin, (serving 18 years at Maghaberry), to attend his two and a half year-old grandson's funeral. This case figured prominently in the media, and in this publication, soon afterwards. Such was mainly due to the fact that Mr. McLaughlin did not return to the prison, and remained at large for almost 72 hours. He insisted, as did many others including the civil rights' veterans, that this was the normal period associated with the death of a close relative.

The OFA communicated directly on a number of occasions with the Prison Service and the NIO, on diverse issues and cases. The group worked closely with both families directly involved, over an extended period. During that time the condition of the child, Kyle McMonagle, steadily declined. Protest activities, some organized by the Irish Republican Prisoners' Welfare Association, included a joint families & OFA presentation to Derry City Council, various press releases and TV interviews, and a public advert supported by numerous community groups. The families believe that Ciaran would not have obtained two periods of compassionate parole, but for that high-profile campaign. However, when the child was at death's door, this prisoner and grandfather was not granted leave to join the families at Kyle's hospital bedside.

Over the period of campaigning on this one case, the veterans became enlightened as to many facts that largely are not in the public domain. It was felt that their practical solidarity should be extended to include all republican and socialist prisoners, on both sides of the border, and in English gaols. This was viewed as a matter of great urgency.

The OFA, which is not affiliated to any political party or militant grouping, feels that its independence may help to bring together diverse elements on the basis of humanitarian concerns. Above all, at this time, they argue, the focus should be on health, establishing rights on compassionate parole, education and physical safety. The latter factor is foremost in the minds of the families of prisoners held at Maghaberry, where, as a result of non-segregation, and being greatly outnumbered, republican prisoners have been subjected to a number of vicious, life-threatening attacks.

A document drafted by Maghaberry prisoners on the issue of 'Human Rights', real or imagined, has been sent out to the OFA in recent days for its consideration, amendment and possible recommendations. Although the veterans are critical of the current state of affairs within the Human Rights Commission, they have opened up dialogue with that body on the question of prisoners' rights, and intend to highlight further the urgent need for segregation, especially within Maghaberry. In the week ending September 14th two high-profile commissioners, resigned from the HRC - a drastic action, publicly supported by the CR Vets.

The CR veterans have stated that they are prepared to sponsor meetings of concerned relatives and their supporters, initially in the NorthWest. That initiative has been conveyed to other interested individuals and groups. However, it is noteworthy that the document now in circulation, which contained the proposal to establish the FSNC, did not sound over optimistic. It stated:

"It is the believe of many that such a campaign is long overdue, but can only be built from the grass roots, upon whom its success or failure will depend. The relatives, we believe, should form the vanguard of any mobilization or organizational structure. All we can do at this stage is to act as a springboard, to promote, and lobby for, the FSNC project. "

In a follow-up communication , the OFA's sub-committee, set up to spearhead the FSNC, clearly spelt out a stark reality:

"We cordially invite your response, for without some measure of support from those directly or indirectly concerned, the FSNC is unlikely to make any further progress."

The veterans' carefully-chosen words reveal that they are fully conscious of their limited strength and resources. They, nor others inside or out, can no longer anticipate the support of a mass movement, as in the days of NICRA, People's Democracy or the Derry Citizens' Action Committee.

But there is something about the FSNC's initial documents that evoke more than an echo of Duke Street, Burntollet or Bloody Sunday, and struggles going even further back.

The letter to the gaols bears the signature of one of the last surviving spouses of the veterans of the War for Independence (1916-23). This elderly woman is also the FSNC's first patron, and a central contact point. In recent years, and in spite of her age, she remains the assistant secretary to the civil rights veterans association.

The OFA has formulated its own independent pro-active ideas which are now in circulation. Some were implemented within a few days of establishing the FSNC steering group.

The CR veterans continue to debate their "Strategy 2003+ " document, but published all of an "Action List." The lattert includes the following items:

1. Create an Internet forum as a matter of urgency.
2. Produce an inexpensive periodic newsletter.
3. Agree on a logo for a Full Status Now badge/button ASAP.
4. Write to all known political prisoners [ affiliated, 'abandoned' and/or 'independent' ]. This direct communication would invite the views of prisoners themselves, seek reports from each gaol, and any other matters deemed relevant by relatives or supporters.
5. Issue an invitation, publicly and/or on a one-to-one basis, to like-minded individuals and mutually concerned groups to join the FSNCampaign's Patrons List.

Those wishing to put forward other ideas, send messages of support to the FSNC steering group have been cordially invited to communicate via

fsncampaign@hotmail.com
OR
oct5th_vets68@hotmail.com ASAP.

UPDATE

The FSNC have agreed a logo and is circulating a 'business card' bearing such. Plans for a badge/button, with the logo as its centrepiece, are going ahead with the help of supporters in the U.S. The letter to non-remand prisoners in Belmarsh, Full Sutton, Maghaberry, Portlaoise, Whitefield and Whitemoor has been agreed and individually signed. Delivery of such, to between 50-60 sentenced prisoners, is anticipated before the end of September.

Probably, the most significant step taken at such a formative stage in the FSNCampaign was the speedy creation of an Internet forum. Being the first item on the released OFA "Action List" , such reveals an understanding of the need for international exposure, communication and solidarity. Appropriately October 5th has been chosen as the official launch date. However, readers of The Blanket can access it now via http://www.voy.com/102812/


Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh was a Co-founder of NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association) (1967)


 

 

 

 

 

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Index: Current Articles

19 September 2002

 

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Belfast's "Poor White Trash" and the Dead Dogmas of the Past
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Top Cat

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Lower Than The Lowest of the Low
Liam O Ruairc

 

Civil Rights Vets Launch Status Campaign
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh

 

Peace Rather than Pipedreams
Sean Smyth

 

Bush War
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15 September 2002

 

Suppression of Dissent: What it is and what to do about it
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Chief Constable Orde
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Yes, Yes, RUC, It's The Force to Set Us Free

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2 Quit Human Rights Commission
October Fifth Association

 

What's Good For the Goose
Anthony McIntyre

 

A Burning Issue
Davy Carlin

 

 

 

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