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  • Writer's pictureFriends of Sinn Féin USA

Explainer - Internment Without Trial August 9th 1971

50 years ago today Internment without trial was introduced in the North of Ireland.

In the early hours of the morning of August 9th, doors were kicked in and homes were raided by the British army. 342 men were dragged from their beds and brought to interrogation centres and tortured.

Within 48 hours, 116 of those arrested were released; the remainder were then incarcerated without a trial.

Throughout 1971, the war in the North had intensified as resistance to unionist repression grew. It was only a matter of time before Internment was reintroduced.

Targeted exclusively at the nationalist community, those arrested included civil rights leaders. The IRA, knowing that internment was imminent avoided any major arrests.

The IRA held a press conference in Belfast on 13 August at which Joe Cahill, the Officer Commanding the IRA in Belfast, said that internment had had no noticeable effect on IRA structures and the campaign would continue.

The introduction of internment was also marked by a British Army murdering spree.

In the two days after internment, 10 people from the greater Ballymurphy area were shot dead by the British Army. Among the dead was Fr Hugh Mullan, shot through the heart as he went to give the Last Rites to a young man wounded by British Army gunfire. It was to become known as the Ballymurphy Massacre.

As trouble erupted in Ardoyne in North Belfast, loyalists moved out of their houses in the area and torched their homes as they left so that Catholics couldn’t be housed in them. Three people from the area – IRA Volunteer Paddy McAdorey, 16-year-old Leo McGuigan, and a Protestant woman, Sarah Worthington – were shot dead by the British Army in the hours after the introduction of internment.

Despite the actions of loyalists, internment was directed solely at the nationalist community. The first loyalist internees were not arrested until 2 February 1973.

Of the hundreds detained, all were physically abused but 12 were selected for special treatment.

They had been secretly moved to an unknown destination and tortured for seven days. They had hoods on their heads throughout, had no idea where they were, and were kept completely isolated.

Their interrogators deceived some detainees into believing that they were to be thrown from high-flying helicopters. (In reality, the blindfolded detainees were thrown from a helicopter that hovered approximately four feet above the ground.)

All were severely beaten, forced to stand spreadeagled against walls until they collapsed, given hardly any food, and subjected to ‘white noise’, which prevented them from sleeping. All the while they were constantly interrogated.

This was a new technique of sensory deprivation designed to disorient the mind and facilitate interrogation in-depth.

They became known as “The Hooded Men”; they are still pursuing justice for their ill-treatment.

Internment continued until December 5th, 1975. During that time, 1,981 people were detained – 1,874 were from the nationalist community, 107 were from the unionist community.

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