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Suppression of BLM solidarity protests

"reminiscent of the notorious Special Powers Acts”

10 June 2020

In an earlier report of Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Ireland we applauded the spontaneity of the demonstrators but warned of a naive view of the local police and the State. In fact both the Garda and the Northern PSNI, formerly the RUC, moved against protestors.

However the reaction in the North was extremely aggressive, with the use of armoured jeeps and riot gear, threatening organisers and fining demonstrators.

The strategy became even more questionable when it turned out that the police were using a Covid 19 recommendation against social gathering that had no enforcement powers. However on Friday evening a Stormont committee representing the executive parties pushed through powers that came into force at 11 o'clock on Friday night to be deployed on Saturday.

The action has led to a crowdfunding drive to defend protesters and organisers and to vigorous protests by Amnesty international and by the Committee on the Administration of Justice.

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK, said:

“The last- minute amendment of regulations to allow fines against peaceful Black Lives Matter protests is unacceptable…. even in times of emergency, law enforcement officials may only use means… necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate objective… Boris Johnson has tweeted that ‘People have a right to protest peacefully and while observing social distancing’, yet people in Northern Ireland are being fined and face prosecution for doing just that. The fines should be voided and allegations of racial profiling in the issue of such fines must be examined.”
Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ, said:
“We have serious concerns both about the confused and unsatisfactory nature of emergency legislation in Northern Ireland and the policing operations over the past weekend in response to the Black Lives Matter protests. The regulations here do not address the right to protest and instead the PSNI is relying on powers designed to restrict social gatherings that only became enforceable the night before the protest. The enforcement powers themselves are so vaguely drafted that they are reminiscent of the notorious Special Powers Acts”.
Those who thought this was some sort of administrative glitch were disabused by the debate at the Stormont Assembly following the demonstrations. Only Gerry Carroll of PbP protested the police action and he was brushed aside. Justice minister Naomi Long claimed unconvincingly that these were longstanding regulations that were just coming into play. Sinn Fein's line was that these were police operational matters and not the business of the Assembly - a sign of just how far Sinn Fein have travelled in recent decades.

There are a number of factors at work. The popular solidarity with Black Lives Matter is countered

by Garda and PSNI solidarity with the US cops. In addition lockdown measures have given them a great deal of control over working class activities that they are reluctant to surrender. For their part, the aim of the capitalist parties is to avoid at all costs any diplomatic break with the Trump regime. It is fine for Sinn Fein to commission murals of George Floyd on the Falls Road, quite another to openly attack Trump.

In the North of Ireland there is another factor. Virus restrictions have led to a cancellation of the 12th Orange demonstrations, offering a respite from tens of decades of sectarian provocation. The Orange will only accept this if all demonstrations are banned, so the coalition parties in the executive want to see the current demonstrations shut down quickly.

That means that democratic rights have been sacrificed at the alter of sectarianism. That is actually the foundation of the current political settlement in Ireland, brought into focus by spontaneous acts of solidarity.

The current demonstrations across the world focus on injustice in the US. However as soon as they mobilise they find the State and the police on their own doorstep, implacable enemies of democracy and of the working class. Further action and organisation requires defence from their hostile actions.

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