O’Loan: US should learn from North internment

THE United States government was warned that it should look to the experiences of Northern Ireland and learn that the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention camp will serve as a recruiting ground for al-Qaida in the same way that internment without trial in the North led to a growth in the IRA.

In her first speech since stepping down from office on Monday, the North’s former Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan said she fears that current international anti-terror policing “will grow the very problem which it seeks to defeat”.

Meanwhile, Garda Síochána Chief Inspector Kathleen O’Toole said her office would be open to examining the role of gardaí in protecting planes that pass through Shannon Airport, alleged to be carrying terror suspects.

Both women were speaking yesterday on the issue of policing at a conference Tracking the Tiger. A Decade of Change organised by Ceifin — a group that discusses social change in Ireland.

Ms O’Loan said: “The US is now operating a process of internment without any proper legal process in Guantanamo Bay and other locations. We had internment without trial of people suspected of involvement in activities against the State from 1971 to 1975. It is widely thought in Northern Ireland that it was a significant recruiting agent for the IRA. It is a chilling thought that the Guantanamo Bay processes could act as a recruitment agent for al-Qaida.

“The powers conferred by sophisticated counter-terrorism legislation must be used very carefully with constant regard to the human rights of all who are policed.”

Addressing the conference in Ennis, Co Clare, Garda Inspector O’Toole said her office may consider, in the future, examining the role of the force in protecting planes that pass through Shannon Airport, which many human rights groups suspect carry detainees.

A Council of Europe report last year said “extraordinary rendition” flights or those carrying terror suspects were landing at Shannon. But gardaí have refused to search these flights. “We haven’t visited Shannon Airport yet. We haven’t looked at the national security issue or any of the policing around that,” said Ms O’Toole. “Policing is all about human rights, it’s about protecting and promoting human rights. So if it’s appropriate for us to look at the situation in the future to determine if the police practices are appropriate, then we will.”

Ms O’Loan, who completed her term as Police Ombudsman in the North earlier this week, said she wanted to make “one final appeal” for information on the so-called disappeared — nine people murdered by the IRA and buried in secret locations in the 1970s.

Four bodies have been recovered since the IRA issued a statement in 1999 saying it believed it had identified nine burial sites. Ms O’Loan said anyone with more information has a duty to come forward.

“People do not disappear in a vacuum. They do not get murdered in a vacuum.

“Ireland is a small country and there are always people who have heard something or who know something or who saw something. We have to find the bodies of the disappeared. And we have to say to anybody who may have any information, no matter how trivial, no matter how small it may seem, we have to say to them: ‘Come forward with it.’ Because the commission for the disappeared will put the pieces together, and maybe one more family will be able to lay to rest the body of someone whom they have loved and lost for so long.”

Ms O’Loan said that while Sinn Féin has signed up to policing in the North, some people who “used to be dissuaded by their communities from engaging with police” are “still not sure”.

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