For a German translation published by Lower Class Magazine, see here.
On Friday morning, a tenth member of the radical Irish republican party Saoradh was arrested in Glasgow and the car of an activist seized by the PSNI in East Tyrone. I spoke to a party representative from Dublin about the ongoing Operation Arbacia, house searches and arrests of Saoradh members. Here is what he told me.
On Tuesday, August 18, the Northern Irish PSNI, assisted by An Garda Síochána in the southern 26 Counties, the Republic of Ireland, arrested nine leading members of the radical Irish republican party Saoradh (Liberation). The arrests were made while several houses of Saoradh members were searched in Derry, East Tyrone, and North Armagh.
In the South, Gardaí searched the homes of six republicans in Dublin, Cork, Kerry and Laois. Most of those singled out for house searches and arrests were former republican prisoners. All nine members, seven men and two women, aged between 26 and 50, are still questioned at Musgrave Serious Crime Suite in Belfast. There were no arrests made by An Garda Síochána.
BBC Northern Ireland reported that the MI5 directs the Operation Arbacia. In a statement on Friday, the PSNI informed that the operation is “ongoing”. On Thursday, all four Saoradh offices in Derry, Newry, Belfast, and Dungannon were searched. On Friday morning in Scotland, a tenth Saoradh member was arrested following a search of his family home in Glasgow.
All ten are held under the British Terrorism Act and remain in custody. The authorities were granted an additional 72 hours to question the nine people held in Belfast by Judge Pat Lynch QC. This extension will end at 2 pm on Saturday.
This major cross-border operation against the republican party Saoradh is one of the most significant operations against republican activists in many years. Over several months the security service increasingly turned their attention on Saoradh activists, particularly in Derry and Strabane. The use of house searches and arrests in Scotland and both parts of Ireland suggests that this operation is aimed at breaking Saoradh.
The operation primarily focuses on leadership figures of the lawful political party in the Northern jurisdiction. At the same time, a spokeswoman for An Garda Síochána said that “there were no plans to make arrests [in the Republic of Ireland]”. Security service statements emphasise that the operation is directed against the activities of the so-called “New IRA”, or “the IRA”. Arresting these political activists under the Terrorism Act in an operation supposedly target the New IRA is intended to establish clear evidence of overlapping membership of the lawful party Saoradh and the proscribed paramilitary organisation IRA. If the security service succeeds in making this link, it will serve as a pretext to proscribe Saoradh.
In a statement, PRO Paddy Gallagher from Derry stressed that Saoradh is a lawful political party:
Since the formation of Saoradh, the British and Free State governments have used an array of draconian measures to suppress the party. By targeting party members, their families and supporters, the oppressor has sought to bully the party out of existence. The MI5-led operation which has witnessed the detainment of several members throughout Derry, Tyrone, Armagh and further raids in Dublin, Cork and Kerry is another example of targeted attacks in a futile attempt to stop the growth of our party.
Alex McCrory, a prominent republican activist and former prisoners from Belfast, said:
Such a level of cross-border coordination and cooperation is unprecedented in recent years. Undoubtedly, it is made eminently more possible by the appointment of Drew Harris as the Top Cop in the twenty-six counties. Harris may have donned a Free State uniform, but he is a British cop at heart. In this instance, he would have bent over backwards to assist his former employer.
Saoradh has issued two statements since the start of the operation on Tuesday, and Belfast member Dee Fennell appeared on UTV during the PSNI search of the Belfast office.
While media attention has focused mainly on the developments in Northern Ireland, I spoke to a representative of Saoradh in Dublin about the situation south of the border. The activist is an influential member of the party but wants to remain anonymous: “If my name appears in the media today, my house is on the list for a raid tomorrow morning.”
In Dublin, the houses of two party activists were searched:
The operation was an attack on former prisoners. Only former prisoners were singled out, but nothing was found. This is plain harassment of prisoners that is going on for years.
Funds for republican prisoners held in the high-security prisons Maghaberry and Portlaoise are raised through the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Dependents’ Association (IRPWA). There are about 30 prisoners looked after by the IRPWA in Portlaoise. “One prisoner who was recently released from Portlaoise lost his job because of the constant harassment from the Gardaí Special Branch.”
He was incredibly outraged about the way the searches were conducted:
The armed Emergency Response Unit conducted the searches. This Saoradh member has a partner with severe back problems. Because of that she was up and looked out of the window and saw the whole street and the front yard filled with armed Gardaí of the Emergency Response Unit. They placed big flashlights outside the house. She immediately knew what was going on.
Over the past years, I had several meetings with the Saoradh members whose house was searched in Crumlin; some of these meetings had to be postponed due to the health issues and hospital appointments of his partner.
Despite these severe health issues, they assaulted her and forced her on the ground. That was at 5 in the morning. Because of the noise, the neighbours came out on the street. All they are doing with these raids is harming the community. Some of the neighbours immediately objected to the raids and protested.
I asked him why he thinks that Saoradh was targeted this week:
They want to damage the standing of our activists in the communities. They are worried that Saoradh is successful in community work, so they want to alienate Saoradh within the communities.
In the months before the outbreak of the Pandemic, Saoradh increasingly turned their attention on social issues, such as the Island-wide housing crisis. Over the last couple of weeks, Saoradh was active in confronting right-wingers in Belfast and Dublin, teaming up with other Socialists and Irish Antifa activists.
Journalist John Mooney recently quoted a Garda source in the Times, saying that republicans are:
attracting young people on a variety of political issues, including globalisation and anti-capitalism. The people who are joining are not just traditional republicans but more left-wing activists.
“But there is also another reason, why this operation has begun”, the Saoradh representative said:
It is a PR exercise by the police that they can say they are targeting ‘the dissidents’. We are amid a pandemic that is about to lead to a recession, and this is their way to show to the politicians: ‘We need more money.’
He then turns his attention to another topic regularly highlighted by Saoradh – Ireland as a global tax haven for multinational companies:
We had a massive financial crisis in 2008. Bankers and property developers were throwing taxpayers money out of the window; corruption and criminality were ongoing for years. How many banks have been raided? How many houses of the top bank managers have been raided? How many have been convicted for their criminal actions that led to the current social crisis? None, absolutely none.
I want to move on to the next question, but he insists:
This was a long-planned, well-coordinated operation. You would need hundreds of personnel for such a big operation. We are regularly told by the government that there are no resources to tackle anti-social behaviour and drugs. Still, they can find more than one hundred Gardaí to smash in the doors of political activists at 5 in the morning.
Saoradh was officially formed in Newry in autumn 2016. The aim was to build an Ireland-wide radical republican alternative to the Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Féin. Some of the leading members are experienced republicans who were active in the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin during the conflict in Northern Ireland. They were joined by a young generation of republicans, overwhelmingly from urban working-class areas, effected by youth unemployment and social issues, who see no perspective in the current political settlement.
Earlier that year, some of those who later formed Saoradh organised a march in commemoration of the centenary of the 1916-rising. Up to 4.000 people marched behind 50 women and men in paramilitary-like uniforms through rural Coalisland in County Tyrone. The main speaker of the event was former republican prisoner Davy Jordan who later became the first chairperson of the party. Jordan has since been succeeded by Dublin-man Brian Kenna but remains in the national leadership of Saoradh.
The Pandemic forced Saoradh to cancel their parades in 2020, but at Easter 2019, still up to 1.000 people marched at their national Easter commemoration outside the GPO in Dublin.
So how will the recent house searches and arrests impact the work of Saoradh, I ask:
I believe that these raids will not affect Dublin. It will make our members more determined. Yes, these times are worrying, it is always worrying when the state comes down so heavy on a political grouping, but this will make us more determined to get our message out.
Raids are done for two reasons: One is to alienate our activists in communities. When people see heavy raids like that, they go: ‘Oh my God, what have they done? They must be up to something for them to do something like that.’ So, the first reason is to alienate us within our own communities. The second reason is to put people off joining us. When people hear about raids like that, it puts some people off from joining us.
He then talks about the consequences in the North:
Obviously, the arrests in the 6 Counties are a lot more worrying because people are still in custody and the security service may bring in trumped-up charges. This will mean that they will be taken out of circulation politically from anywhere between now and two years. That is worrying.
Although this is a more sober and, probably, more honest assessment, it echoes what Paddy Gallagher from Derry said: “The more Saoradh resists, the more pressure is applied. Likewise, the more pressure that is applied, the more Saoradh will resist.”
However, with the arrest of ten leading members of Saoradh, the threat of charges is still hanging over the party. If some of their national leadership members are charged under the Terrorism Act, only time will tell if and how Saoradh can recover from such a blow.
This article initially appeared on The Pensive Quill.