As dozens of masked paramilitary police decamped from armoured jeeps onto a Belfast street it could have been a scene from 1969, 1979 or 1989. But it wasn’t. Instead it was June 27th 2009 – the day of Britain’s inaugural ‘Armed Forces Day’.
If proof was ever needed of the unchanged nature of both British policing in Ireland and the wider occupation, it was provided in Belfast today. As one arm of Britain’s occupation forces were ‘celebrated’ with the flying of the ‘Armed Forces Day’ flag above City Hall, another arm of those same occupation forces were busy suppressing the right to peaceful protest.
While republicans are all too used to the PSNI blocking the routes of ‘illegal’ marches, today the PSNI went a step further and prevented éirígí activists and supporters from even reaching the assembly point for a static picket. Those walking on the footpath found their path blocked by baton-yielding paramilitaries clad from head to foot in body armour. Such pre-emptive policing would sit comfortably in the police state of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The picket which was called in opposition to the flying of the ‘Armed Forces Day’ flag over Belfast City Hall was unable to take place as upwards of 120 people were prevented from entering the centre of Ireland’s second city.
As it became apparent that the PSNI were intent on using violence to prevent access to the city centre an impromptu protest was held on Castle Street.
As part of this protest the names of those killed as a result of British state violence was read to the listening crowd. The task of reading this lengthy list of names was shared between Marie Drumm, whose mother Máire was murdered by unionist death squads, and éirígí’s Seán Mac Brádaigh. This dignified memorial to the victims of British state violence stood in contrast to the menacing backdrop of the masked militia.
Speaking after the protest éirígí General Secretary Breandán Mac Cionnaith said, “All the talk of change in recent years has today been exposed as just that – talk and nothing more than empty, hollow talk. Belfast city centre remains a no-go zone for republicans – unless, of course, those republicans are wiling to ask the British state for permission to enter their own city.
“In light of the potential threat to the safety of those attending the picket we decided that it would be best for people from the west of the city to walk together to City Hall. And this is what we did only to find the footpath blocked by the PSNI riot squad. When we moved to the footpath on the other side of the road the PSNI moved ahead of us to block it also. Despite the spin of the PSNI there was no attempt made by éirígí to march to City Hall. What we witnessed today was the actions of a police state where protest and dissent are met with brute force.”
In closing Breandán committed éirígí to opposing ‘Armed Forces Day’ in the future.
“Today was the first so-called armed forces day. By our protest here today éirígí has ensured that it did not pass unopposed. In the years to come we will build on today’s protest and ensure that June 27th becomes a date of protest – not a date of celebration.”
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