Nine men appeared in Cork's District court charged with offenses alleged to have occurred at a whiteline picket in the city on June 30th. The charges essentially argue that the men were obstructing traffic. Whiteline pickets are a common feature of protests across the country and are most often used in relation to prisoner issues. A whiteline picket is where a number of protestors stand on a continuous whiteline in the middle of a street holding placards highlighting the particular issue.
This particular whiteline picket was organised by the Prisoner Solidarity Group. The PSG is a Cork based group that was set up to highlight and campaign around the issues of the treatment of republican prisoners in Maghaberry prison in the north and on Marian Price's continued internment and other related issues. The establishing of the PSG succeeded in overcoming the issue of the division of various organisations over the prisoner issues. Up to that point the different republican groups and their supporters essentially organised their own events and they were more erratic and less visible. However the PSG managed to gather together both republicans and others concerned with the issue. The PSG is not politically affiliated and welcomes everyone on the basis of support for the rights of the prisoners. The development of the PSG in Cork and similar groups elsewhere was an extremely important development as it enable people to do solidarity work for prisoners without feeling they were giving political support to any particular organisation. Regular monthly protests, a very visible postering campaign, promoting these and the hightened profile of the prisoner issue attracted the attention of the Garda Special Branch.
Historically the Gardai have often set out to muzzle dissent over republican related issues , particularly prisoner ones across the state. When the Saoirse campaign was in full swing in Cork during the early years of the peace process, gardai made regular, though unsuccessful, efforts to intimidate the campaigners out of Daunt square and off the roads using various means. So the attempts to shut down the PSG or intimidate them are part of the pattern. That pattern of political policing is always directed full force against republicans , but is also felt by any campaign that the Gardai see as being a threat to the status quo as people experienced in anti war activity at Shannon Airport and Shell to Sea campaigners can testify.
The nine men are essentially charged with obstructing traffic, the charge is of course spurious. They were on a continuous whiteline with more than adequate clearance on both sides for traffic and at a location where newspaper sellers often work that same line. The effects of the charges of course are beneficial to the Garda campaign. The nine men had to spend today in court where the case was adjourned to December 17th, then they will appear again and maybe the case will be heard or as we have seen before there may be another adjournment. Either way their lives are disrupted, wages lost etc. they are in fact punished whether convicted or not. Also the very charging of the nine will make others with fainter hearts, or with responsibilities or work that make court appearances difficult, less likely to participate in future protests. It is important to say that the PSG remains active and unbowed.
It is important that people speak out against this intimidation of protestors.