Belfast councillor visits Australia

Wednesday, October 16, 1991

Belfast councillor visits Australia

Story and photo by Steve Painter

Britain's policy in the north of Ireland is falling apart to the extent that many British Tory politicians will now admit privately that they would like to get out.

But they stay because they can't work out how to leave without suffering a huge political defeat, says Belfast city councillor Gerry McGuigan, a Sinn Fein representative visiting Australia.

As leader of the nine-member Sinn Fein caucus in the 51-member council, McGuigan lives with the constant threat of assassination. "In the last four months, four of my comrades in Sinn Fein have been murdered, two of them councillors.

"This is not just a random campaign against ordinary nationalists. At times when we are making political progress, Britain will stoop to any level to upset that." In 1988, McGuigan's predecessor as Sinn Fein leader on the council was shot several times and almost killed.

After six months of research, British television Channel Four recently made a program presenting strong evidence that British forces arm and control death squads preying on nationalist communities in the north of Ireland.

Both Amnesty International and the Helsinki Watch Committee have recently issued reports condemning civil liberties and human rights violations in northern Ireland.

McGuigan, a councillor since 1985, is in Australia as a guest of the Australian Irish Congress, which also plans to tour recently released Birmingham Six member Johnnie Walker later this month.

British policy in northern Ireland is based on reprisals against residents in areas where the IRA is active. "They move into the area, seal off one or two streets and do systematic house raids.

"They go into a house, bring in 10 or 12 soldiers, put all the people in one room and begin to systematically destroy the house. In one case, the British army held the residents of the house for a day and a half. During that time the house was torn to pieces.

"That's how Britain treats Irish nationalists. That's the reality of living in a war zone. But we are determined that they will never break us", he added.

"In the Ireland that I want, the traditions of the loyalists would be safeguarded, along with their civil liberties and religious rights", he said.

By being on the council, Sinn Fein has been able to expose some of the bigotry and corruption that pervades it, said McGuigan. "Belfast city council is now infamous throughout the world."

Earlier this year a British court convicted it of discriminating against Catholics. "It was over the most petty issue — the provision s in a nationalist area.

-1>"It's a salutary lesson to them: if they discriminate, we will embarrass them, we will expose them to the world. We're constantly challenging the misuse of power and the lavish spending.0>

"There had been junkets all over the world paid for by the ratepayers. The council used to be a holiday club. We've actually saved around £100,000 just on those who are too embarrassed to take the trips now."

-2>Unemployment is up to 80% in some areas of Belfast. "I know people in their 30s who have never held a job", said McGuigan. n0>

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