Was the recently disbanded and self-styled ‘Irish Republican Army’ entitled to claim the term ‘Prisoners of War’ for its captured combatants?
To qualify under the Third Geneva Convention, a combatant must be part of a chain of command, wear a “fixed distinctive marking, visible from a distance”, bear arms openly, and have conducted military operations according to the laws and customs of war.
Since the IRA did not wear any fixed distinctive markings visible from a distance, did not bear arms openly and did not conduct military operations according to the laws and customs of war, its captured combatants could never qualify as prisoners of war.
Since the IRA did not grant POW status to any of the enemy combatants it captured but instead tortured and summarily murdered them, and since it also tortured and summarily murdered civilians it abducted – including disappearing their corpses – its combatants could never be internationally recognised as qualifying for POW status and not least according to the principle of reciprocity.
Is it possible to argue that the IRA might have established its own localised human rights’ rules that rendered the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law inapplicable in Britain and Ireland?
If the IRA never made appeal to such International Humanitarian laws or courts, it might be argued that it was recognising a different set of localised rules, but this is undermined immediately by the fact that prominent captured Irish republicans did indeed make appeal to the very institutions and international laws whose protections they denied to the combatants and non-combatants they captured or abducted and subsequently tortured and murdered.
One obvious case which clarifies this was the matter of the arrest by Irish police of a number of prominent republicans in Burt, County Donegal, three miles from the border where the day before civilian Patsy Gillespie was abducted from his home, chained to a bomb and made to drive the bomb into an army checkpoint at Coshquin at which point some unknown IRA combatants triggered the bomb killing Patsy Gillespie and five soldiers. The prominent republicans captured three miles from the scene were found in possession of gloves, balaclavas, and other clothing.
Among the men arrested in Burt, County Donegal, were well-known Derry republicans William McGuinness (younger brother of Martin McGuinness) and Gary Fleming, along with Anthony Heaney from Castledawson. William McGuinness and Anthony Heaney refused to answer questions and were subsequently tried, convicted and imprisoned in the Irish Republic for failing to give an account of their movements which was an offence under the Offences Against the State Act at the time. They were acquitted of charges of IRA membership.
However, these prominent republicans later appealed to various Irish courts and to the European Court of Human Rights regarding the breach of their ‘right to silence’ and received favourable judgments and financial compensation which they accepted. By making this kind of appeal to the ECHR, the entire republican movement – political and militant – was effectively recognising the jurisdiction of the International Humanitarian Laws and associated Geneva Conventions it was meanwhile denying to combatants and civilians it captured and murdered. It was effectively admitting that its own campaign was outside the laws and customs of war.
The IRA therefore operated in the full knowledge that its campaign was pure and unadulterated terrorism in every sense of the word. Following the ECHR judgment in favour of William McGuinness and Anthony Heaney, the Irish courts were obliged to overturn their convictions.
With all of the legal expertise and knowledge available to the IRA through prominent firms of publicly-financed solicitors and lawyers, the IRA was fully aware of the gravity of its human rights violations, the definition of its combat as terrorism and also of the possibility of war crimes’ charges which might have been applied later to its leadership if the British or Irish governments had been of a mind to press these.
The Spanish government has proceeded with charges of crimes against humanity against ETA leaders even after ETA has surrendered, disbanded and decommissioned its weaponry. ETA’s prisoners are still serving their prison sentences. The Spanish government has not countenanced any kind of deal or negotiation with what used to be ETA.
So it is only within the brainwashed cult and grand lies of the IRA that captured IRA combatants were imagined to be POWs. Everywhere else, IRA prisoners were recognised as terrorists pure and simple.
The 1916 Proclamation’s penultimate line reads : “We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine.”
The seven signatories of The 1916 Proclamation could never have imagined a future IRA so devoid of honour, integrity, humanity and truthfulness as the Provos’ crimes against humanity later proved them to be.