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The Strip


Anthony McIntyre • 30 July 2004

Not many years back, much ado was made of the strip searches women prisoners were forced to undergo in Maghaberry prison. For long enough such searches while the norm in men's jails were not a feature of life in women’s prisons. But when 'contraband' made its way back from court in the 1980s supposedly in the possession of young women facing non-political charges a policy of strip searching quickly ensued. Any woman leaving the prison for whatever reason, most likely hospital appointments or court appearances, was forced to undergo the practice. It came then as a surprise to me when a mother of five claimed she had been told she would need to submit to a strip search in a bar in Strabane. A worse shock was to follow – those who allegedly told her were former Provisional prisoners.

It seemed in such bad taste. I knew there had been summersaults galore but at least they could be rationalised by those making them in terms of politics. What justification could be put forward for abusing women in the manner of Maghaberry screws?

Daphne Black has lived in the same Strabane house for twenty years. She is not just some 'blow in' new to the area who might easily arouse the suspicion of her neighbours for some perceived misdemeanour or other. When I met her in the company of her nephew Aaron McGarrigle in her hometown earlier this week, she struck me as an outgoing and confident woman, easy to confabulate with, and was certainly someone who was not about to be pushed around. There was little need for niceties and I immediately opened our conversation with the question ‘so what did they do to you?’

She detailed how her experience began when she was accosted by former Provisional prisoners who serve as doormen in one of the town’s bars. ‘They are a family and like to push their weight around a bit.’ She claimed they told her she was in possession of drugs and would need to undergo a strip search. She denied having any drugs but refused to be searched on the grounds that no man had any right to put his hands on her person. At this point two women were sent for and she was left in a room with them while the males left. Daphne then acceded to their request that she undergo a partial strip search whereby only some items of her clothing would be removed. After being searched ‘thoroughly’ no drugs were found. She was then handed a form and told it was documentation that she was required to sign showing that she had consented to be searched. ‘But I had already been searched by the time they gave me it. I wasn’t asked for my consent. So I didn't sign it and took it with me.’ According to her account the former Provisional prisoners told her that they were required by the PSNI to search so many customers and then pass the forms on to them. Daphne later showed her form to the PSNI, who said they knew nothing about it and had no such arrangement with bouncers in the town.

I asked her if she 'did drugs' but she rejected this. As is so often the case in these situations the dispute was not without a history. Her nephew Aaron had previously been friendly with a family that had once put manners on the same bouncers. The latter harboured resentment as a result. Aaron stated that on the night in question he and one of his friends sat in a car parked outside the pub. Quite often they - sometimes he would be accompanied by his partner - would get a takeaway from a local hot food outlet and sit watching the fights outside the bar. ‘A strange way to get entertainment’, I suggested, but an IRSP member later told me that it was not out of character for the town as the bar being talked about was the scene of frequent brawls. It did draw a 'ringside audience' of sorts. While Aaron sat in the car the former Provisional prisoners who were working as bouncers approached him and told him to move off. It was after this that the search was made on Daphne. The bouncers tried to link her presence in the bar with the car outside and alleged that Aaron was holding drugs for her to sell on the premises. Aaron, however, claimed that that he sat outside the bar regularly with his takeaway but had never been bothered until that one incident with men who had a prior reason to dislike him because of his links to the family they had ran up against. ‘They saw a chance to hassle somebody they felt had challenged them and they went for it.’

Six days later while Daphne was out her house was attacked and ransacked. Her television set was hurled through her living room window and onto the street. When she returned home it was clear that all her rooms had been searched. One eyewitness that I spoke to claimed to have seen masked men with combat jackets leave the house. One was carrying a shotgun. Neighbours also gave Daphne a similar version. Daphne subsequently went to both the Provisional IRA and the INLA to inquire about the attack. Neither organisation admitted to involvement. She then went to the Community Restorative Justice in Derry and spoke with one of its leading lights who told her he would do his best to establish the details. Three days later he contacted her to say he had made no progress.

Feeling she had hit a brick wall and had drawn only a blank she asked the IRSP to make representations on her behalf. The party approached the Provisionals and was told that they had indeed attacked Daphne’s home because she sold 1000 Ecstasy tablets a week. The IRSP insisted this was nonsense arguing that it was impossible for that type of activity to go on in the town without it being noticed before now. The IRSP itself had been in conflict with Daphne's family in the past over some minor issue and would have been aware of the slightest hint of any drug related activity. 'People would need to call to the house to collect. There is simply no way to sell drugs on that scale and cover your tracks in a town like Strabane.' Daphne herself claims that, 'neither Sinn Fein nor the IRA have ever confronted me and told me that I was a drug dealer.’

One person I spoke to who has a good working knowledge of Strabane subculture and its characters said that the bouncers involved ‘have a history of falling out with people and then labelling them as drug dealers.’

Initially the PSNI hassled Daphne and alleged that her son was responsible for the attacks on her home. Eventually the force conceded to her that it was in fact the work of a masked gang. As a result she feels let down by the police in Strabane and intends to pursue the matter with Nuala O’Loan the police ombudsman. ‘Known IRA members were outside the front door days after the attack and were pointing at it aggressively. Yet the police treated us as if we were responsible.'

I asked Daphne and Aaron if they had any fears. Both responded that they wanted the matter cleared up and wanted to live without threats hanging over them. Aaron has five children and fears for their safety if his house is attacked. They claim that the people involved are thugs and bullies using the cover of the IRA for their own ends.

If the account of events as provided by Daphne Black and Aaron McGarrigle is correct, it points to a growing trend in poorer nationalist communities of the Provisional movement being used by some of its members to solve, in their own favour, disputes that they have become embroiled in. The sole politics are those of imposing power through the flexing of muscle in local communities. The result is that those most powerless find themselves squeezed between a repressive local militia and an indifferent police force. For now Sinn Fein allows the militia its head rather than permit it to realise just yet that it is ultimately destined for the scrapheap. The victims in this case feel that rather than pretend that such activities do not go on the Sinn Fein leadership should be confronting those within its ranks who engage in them.

If this fails to happen then the verdict of the writer Davy Adams is going to prove conclusive when final submissions are being taken on how the conflict concluded.

Is it any wonder, 10 years after they declared ceasefires, that impressionable young men are still lining up to join their ranks? Where else would so many no-hopers get the chance to exercise such enormous, untrammelled power over neighbours? And where else could they hope to find such totally defenceless targets? For it is almost exclusively within host communities that paramilitaries now seek out their enemies. Long gone are the days when they attacked one another.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent


Historians and economists {subsidized by governments} are very good at creating and perpetuating myths that justify increasing the power placed in the hands of government.
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Index: Current Articles

30 July 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Summertime and the living is easy...
Eamon Sweeney

The Strip
Anthony McIntyre

The Provisionals: A Repeat of History
Liam O Comain

Free Seamus Doherty
Martin Mulholland, IRPWA

Sarte Review
Liam O Ruairc

Bollix: Barriers and Borders
Matthew Kavanah

26 July 2004

Joe Cahill - Provisional Republican Veteran
Anthony McIntyre

Meet Sean Keenan
Kathleen O Halloran

Captain James Kelly - A Brief Biography
Members of the Kelly Family

The Kelly Affair
Liam O Comain

Kelly Detractors Challenged
Darinagh Boyle

Hope Floats
Mary La Rosa


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