Civil Liberties through the Prism of Northern Ireland

My mother’s grandparents left Ireland in the late 19th Century and moved to the West of Scotland. That familial link, my many Irish friends, geographic proximity and historic links meant that Ireland, specifically Northern Ireland and The Troubles, have never been far from my thoughts. Be it Bloody Sunday, disenfranchisement, internment, Diplock courts, Castlereagh, Colin Wallace, hunger strikes, extrajudicial killing, the Stalker Inquiry, Bobby Sands, state collusion with paramilitaries, H-blocks, dirty protests, phone tapping, kneecappings, the Birmingham Six, or the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). I had a friend from Northern Ireland that had been brutalized by the RUC after his brother had been sent to an internment camp. (This was but one example of RUC bungling; multiple people were interned that had no association with the IRA. This action was one of the best recruiting tools the IRA ever had.) My friend had actually been a hospital laboratory technician and voiced concerns that post-mortem reports of victims of The Troubles had been altered. He subsequently quit his job, emigrated and changed his name.
So, living in the United States now, when I read about the PATRIOT Act I think on the PTA. When I listen to people stereotyping Muslims I recall how Irish Catholics were similarly treated. I equate whistleblowers Scott Ritter and Craig Murray with the likes of Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd. Military commissions with Diplock courts. Drone strikes with the extrajudicial killing sanctioned by organs of the British state. The CIA cosying-up to thugs and MI5/Special Branch collusion with loyalist paramilitaries.
When I left school and was in college then university the Scottish economy was absolutely terrible. I actually gave serious thought to taking the King’s, or should I say Queen’s, Shilling. Enlistment seems attractive in bad economic times. The thought of being posted to Germany and risk being crushed by Red Army tanks or vaporized by tactical nuclear weapons seemed a risk worth taking; especially since I had grown up during a time when nuclear annihilation was a real threat. But the thought of being posted to Northern Ireland to be potentially used in ways that I considered to be flat-out wrong was too much. I could not be so mercenary for a paycheque. I have long since ceased to be amazed by how willing others are to take the King’s Shilling.
It’s with this background that I view state encroachment on civil liberties – through the prism of Northern Ireland.

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