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By Jason Michael
ON ROUTE TO BELFAST, after speaking to Scottish independence supporters in Fife, I was called aside by a police officer at Cairnryan ferry terminal for a “random security check” as I waited to board my sailing. The officer asked for my identification, my name, date and place of birth, my home address in Dublin, and the reason for my trip to Scotland. Once the officer was happy with my answers, I was allowed to continue on into the departure lounge. Moments later, however, the same officer came into the departure lounge and asked if I would accompany her into an interview room at the opposite side of the security and check-in area.
Since 2014, when I began writing pro-independence articles for the Butterfly Rebellion website and then on my own blog, Random Public Journal, I have always been randomly selected for security checks at Cairnryan – when, most often, no one else is selected. Until last night I chalked this down to coincidence, refusing to allow paranoia to run amok. These checks were not quite random after all. The officer told me that I had become an “interesting person” and that she was aware her colleagues had pulled me aside a number of times in the past, before she informed me that I was now being interviewed under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act (2000).
Have just been searched and interviewed at length by the police (under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act). The office… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 28, 2019
It is important to say, at this point, that the three officers who spoke with me over the course of the two hour “examination” were entirely friendly and courteous. They were keen to impress upon me that I “was not in trouble” and that I was “not,” as far as they were aware, “suspected of a crime or involvement in terrorism.” The Terrorism Act does not require reasonable suspicion, someone can be stopped and interviewed simply because they are interesting. There was no hint of threat or intimidation from the police, and, in fact, the whole interview was good humoured – we had a bit of craic. One of the officers was a former member of the RUC and later the PSNI before coming to work for Police Scotland, and he and I chatted in great depth and at length. He made sure I had all the coffee I wanted and even took me out for a smoke.
As part of the process, my two mobile phones were taken away for inspection and later returned, my luggage was taken into another room and searched, and I was patted-down because “some people can get quite aggressive.” What interested them most was my notebook and the book I was reading. The notebook, my rambling thoughts on the Scottish independence campaign, contained phrases like “educate,” “agitate,” and “organise.” “Revolution” and “take the state” also piqued their interest. Quite unfortunately, I’m reading The Secret Army by J Bowyer Bell – a history of the IRA. Yes, they were rather interested in this – and understandably. What they really wanted to know was my thoughts on Scottish politics, Irish history, and Brexit. I was repeatedly asked about Brexit.
The information provided to me by the police explaining why I had been stopped and questioned under the Terrorism A… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 28, 2019
When the interview was over, of course, the ferry had sailed without me. The officers were most accommodating and made sure I was checked-in for the next sailing at 11.30pm, a bit of a bummer considering there would be no connection at the Belfast terminal into the city and that the next coach to Dublin would be three in the morning. But this wasn’t, as some suggested on social media, “harassment.” Terrorism is real, and the police do have a job to do. We can all understand this, and I assured the police who interviewed me that I did understand. Recently there was a car-bombing by dissident Republicans in Derry, and I am a card-carrying Republican – a member of Sinn Féin; a party with historical links to the Provisional IRA during the Troubles. By pulling me up, the police were doing their job and we do need policing like this.
But, still, the structures around this do cause me some concern. This was not a decision of individual police officers – perfectly decent as they were, this was the result of counter-terrorism intelligence, and that this has identified me as a person of interest is worrying.
Sinn Féin is a legal and democratic political party in both Ireland and the six counties. It has seats in Dáil Éireann, Stormont, and Westminster. The Good Friday Agreement effectively ended the war between physical force Republicanism and the British state in Ireland. In both Britain and Ireland my civil and political rights – my human rights, even – guarantee my freedom to be a member of a legal, peaceful, and democratic political party. Sinn Féin was first to condemn the car-bombing in Derry, saying that there is no place in politics for violence. That my membership of Sinn Féin makes me a person of interest to British Intelligence hints at an attitude, in the British state, towards Sinn Féin and Irish Republicanism that is all about control.
The school of thought reflected in the belief that * if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Derek Cameron (@DerekCameron5) March 01, 2019
More concerning – because I think we can all get the Sinn Féin thing – is that my involvement, as a Scot, in the Scottish independence movement also made me a person of interest. Over the past month, in the course of my speaking tour of the movement in Scotland, there has been a discernible coordination between the unionist newspapers, the Scottish Conservative Party, and the security apparatus. At the very beginning of the tour, the Daily Mail, the Scotsman, and the Herald newspapers – clearly acting in concert – attempted to smear me, after I had reported on the dangers of the Good Friday Agreement collapsing as a result of Brexit, as an IRA sympathiser. This was immediately weaponised by a number of Tory MPs and MSPs in order to put pressure on the Scottish National Party – of which I am not a member – and to force Yes Invergordon and Yes Eastwood to cancel my visit to them. All of this has been going on amid increasing interest in me from the police. Any reasonable person would suspect coordination.
So, what is this all about? Why am I, a peaceful and democratic political campaigner, being subjected to this – why is everyone involved in Republican politics in Ireland and Independence politics in Scotland being subjected to this? British Intelligence is reading our Twitter and Facebook updates – even the “private” ones, and it has deemed us, quite rightly, a danger to the state. No longer are guns and bombs a danger to the state in Ireland, and the same is true for Scotland – thankfully, but now our democracy and our activism have become a danger to the British state – and so the British state is policing them. In being stopped by the police – who are simply following their orders – I am being reminded of the power of the state. This is bio-power, that exercise of power that reminds us that we are being watched. It is a style of power that forces us to police ourselves. It instils paranoia, the greatest friend of the bureaucratic and security state.
Benjamin Franklin said: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
New Scot for Indyref2 (@Indyref25) March 01, 2019
This style of political policing – all the way down from Whitehall in London to the police officer doing her or his job – has one objective: To subtly and then not-so-subtly intimidate people. The hope is that it will put average, law-abiding people off activism. No one wants to be of interest – no matter how friendly they are – to the police, and less still want to be watched by the intelligence services of the state. But what this is, in reality, is an attempt on the part of the British state to disempower us – the electorate, the demos of the democracy. Being politically active is a duty. In a democracy it is both a right and a duty. But being politically active does not stop at the ballot box. Our vote is power, and every power comes with responsibility. That responsibility is our political activism and our determination to ensure our voices are heard and that those we elect are kept good. Subtly intimidating people out of activism weakens people, and a democracy without political activism is no democracy at all. In reality, it is a type of tyranny.
As we get closer to independence in Scotland and as Ireland draws closer to unification – id est the dismantling of the British state, what we are witnessing is a creeping police state. This is profoundly undemocratic and bears all the hallmarks of fascism and latent despotism and totalitarianism. The moment democracy becomes a real danger to the state – even to the so-called democratic state, democracy becomes an enemy of the state. What I have now experienced is a slip of the veil, the mask of the democratic state was momentarily lifted – exposing a glimpse of what is to come; random checks, interview, caution, arrest, prison, and more – and for what? It is most interesting, to me at least, that Conservative and Unionist activists are never detained by the police. This is the big give-away. What we have is a move – a return – to political policing.
Ruth Coppinger TD Questions Enda Kenny on Political Policing