On 9th August, 1971, the Unionist government used the Section 12 of the Special Powers Act to arrest and intern hundreds of men. The arrest policy concentrated almost uniquely on Catholics, targeting those believed to be republicans although it included some other individuals such as anarchist John McGuffin (you can read his book on Internment here on Irish Resistance Books).
Previously the Unionists had used the same powers, the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act to intern large groups of men on a number of occasions. This was done from 1922 to 1924, in 1925 (during the collapse of the Boundary Commission), from 1938 to 1945, in 1951, from 1956 to 1961 and in August 1969. Frequently, individuals or small groups of two or three men were interned. Given that arrest could mean being held in prison for up to four weeks before a formal internment order was served, a policy of administrative detentions was continually operated that meant that the Unionists and R.U.C. could imprison people for significant periods of time without ever formalising their internment, never mind bringing formal charges through the courts. This tactic was almost exclusively used against republicans although it was utilised against socialists and communists on occasions in the 1920s and 1930s. Notably campaigns to highlight the Unionists’ arrest and detention policies, treatment of prisoners and right to assemble (i.e. to protest about these issues) provided a greater contribution to the civil rights movement of the 1960s than many would like to acknowledge.
One outcome of the phase of internments that started on 9th August 1971 was the experimentation in torture that was summarised in the report published by the Association for Legal Justice and Northern Aid in 1971. Entitled, Torture: The Record of British Brutality in Ireland. Torture details the experiences of those taken and physical and psychologically abused by British Army personnel and RUC personnel and is discussed in more detail here. The Irish government took a case against the British government in the European Court of Human Rights over the torture which is still not resolved.
The Northern Aid/Association for Legal Justice book can be viewed below. Anyone wishing to find out more could also read another of John McGuffin’s books, The Guinea Pigs, which can also be read on Irish Resistance Books.
And in case anyone needs a reminder of the catastrophic impact of the phase of internment that began on 9th August 1971, here is the front page of the next day’s Irish Independent.