On suspect terrorism legislation…

Danny Morrison reveals a fascinating undercover game that took place throughout the troubles to highlight some of the difficulties he believes are inherent in the Terrorism Bill going through the Westminster parliament just now.By Danny Morrison

Radio Ulster’s ‘Arts Extra’ – one of local BBC’s best programmes – had an item on last week about the Terrorism Bill currently making its way through Westminster. The presenter, Marie-Louise Muir, interviewed John Gray of the Linenhall Library about that part of the bill dealing with “indirect incitement/glorification” of terrorism and how it could be used against librarians.

There are also potential ramifications for the media in publishing announcements or claims from proscribed organisations since such statements could be interpreted as promoting the objectives of terrorism or inciting fear. Indeed, only this week we have learnt of a suppressed memo which shows that George Bush had to be talked out of bombing the Arab television station, Aljazeera, using that very rationale, that the station was promulgating Islamic terrorism.

Under the proposed legislation a person commits an offence “if he – (a) distributes or circulates a terrorist publication; (b) gives, sells or lends such a publication; (c) offers such a publication for sale or loan; (d) provides a service to others that enables them to obtain, read, listen to or look at such a publication…”

We already have had a foretaste of this in the recent case of John O’Hagan – as the alleged book borrower. He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for having documents “likely to be of use to terrorists”, which included extracts from two borrowed books from Belfast’s Central Library – biographies on former senior Conservatives, John Major and Norman Lamont.

Linenhall Library’s John Gray told ‘Arts Extra’ that when the Northern Ireland Political Collection was first established in the early days of the conflict the library was visited by the RUC who said that they would be back in the afternoon to seize the material and arrest the librarian. However, the library contacted Stormont and obtained permission from the then Ministry of Home Affairs to collect and preserve such material. Under the new legislation it would be potentially illegal to possess much of this material particularly if it “glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts” [of terrorism].

Ironically, one of Linenhall’s largest donations came from Sinn Fein Councillor Tom Hartley, a republican archivist of great prescience who has been collecting material for over thirty years. It was Tom who preserved the history of the prison protests and hunger strikes contained in prison ‘comms’ [communications], which are currently held in the National Library of Ireland.

The issue of what is an illegal document has always been open to widespread abuse by the political police in Ireland, North and South.

Former Secretary of State, Roy Mason, took exception to ‘Republican News’ publishing the confidential itinerary of Queen Elizabeth’s planned visit to the North in 1977 and ordered a crackdown against the paper. Millions of pounds were spent mounting a case against the editorial staff of ‘Republican News’ and the Belfast executive of Sinn Fein. Around fifteen people were arrested and charged with IRA membership and conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice.

Many of the documents used against us – I was the editor of the paper – were from the archives of the Northern Ireland Public Records Office – documents, including telex messages and press releases, which Tom Hartley had been lodging with NIPRO under an agreement that they would not be made available to the public for thirty years. However, the Special Branch was secretly seizing the documents almost as fast as Hartley was lodging them. I was charged with IRA membership because my fingerprints and handwriting were on a copy of a telex message which contained an IRA press release. I had made a synopsis of some paragraphs before re-sending an edited version of the IRA statement to the ‘Irish People’ in New York for which I wrote a weekly column called ‘Seven Days’.

I would have been sentenced to five years had it not been for another exhibit which Tom had lodged and the Branch had seized. It was another of my telexed weekly columns, which contained a UVF statement claiming responsibility for a fatal sectarian bombing. On it were my fingerprints and handwritten amendments to the UVF statement. Why wasn’t I charged with UVF membership on the same basis as the IRA charge, I asked the judge, who agreed, and granted me bail. A few months later the case against all of us collapsed and the charges were withdrawn.

In 1985, during a debate in Leinster House, Limerick TD Dessie O’Malley, complaining about the security situation, said it was clear that, “The IRA calls the shots.” That week’s ‘An Phoblacht/Republican News’ re-used the quote beside a large photograph of an IRA Volunteer and later Republican Publications reproduced the front page illustration as a poster which sold in its thousands. Subsequently, the Special Branch raided the Cork offices of Sinn Fein and charged local organiser, Don O’Leary, with membership of the IRA on the basis of possession of the poster. He was sentenced to five years in jail for having a poster which reproduced the words of government minister Dessie O’Malley.

In 1986 the RUC seized a blank RUC diary from my car and arrested me. The diary had been in my car for some time and hadn’t been taken in earlier searches. It had actually been thrown into my car by an RUC man the previous December at a checkpoint at Harpers Bridge in Tyrone in exchange for sweets which he ‘stole’ from my passenger seat. I took a court case to have the property returned but the judge refused. He said that the diary contained information “likely to be of use to terrorists”, that is, the name of the printer and of businesses which had placed advertisements.

Yet the diary was freely circulating and available, at least within the unionist community, and only became ‘illegal’ when it was in the possession of a member of the nationalist community. No wonder there is great concern within British Muslims at this new legislation.

Clearly, with some twisting, turning and distorting almost anything – a telex message, a news report, a biography, a poster, a diary – can be turned into an item “likely to be of use to terrorists” – although through hard experience we know that in reality all such materials are more likely to be of use to oppressors.

First published in Daily Ireland Wednesday 30th November 2005

  • Betty Boo

    Theoretically your mere existence is “likely to be of use to terrorists”.

  • fair_deal

    “He was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for having documents “likely to be of use to terrorists”, which included extracts from two borrowed books from Belfast’s Central Library – biographies on former senior Conservatives, John Major and Norman Lamont.”

    1. All terrorist organisations utilise publicly available information.
    2. His possession of lists of addresses may have had more to do with his conviction that biographical extracts.

  • BogExile


    Inspector Pol Theotherone yesterday clarified the PSNI stance on the new terror legislation.

    1. We will lock up any victim who makes a fuss about OTR as they are indirectly inciting more terrorism, probably in Canary Wharf unless they keep their mouths shut.

    2. Christian Terrorist librarians who indirectly incite people to pay overdue fines are to be excluded from the provisions. However Muslim Librarians will be lifted and locked up forever on a bit of Rathlin Island we have rented from the CIA.


  • Shore Road Resident

    Priceless – Danny Morrison writes a whole article about the Linenhall library without once mentioning that the IRA tried to blow it up in 1993.

  • Crataegus

    The piece of information that constantly worries me is the electoral role, which all political organisations have, and which is sold to commercial organisations. I am legally required to register yet the government then conspires to forward that information to all sorts of unsavoury types. Definitely aiding terrorism to my mind.

  • DK


    You can opt out of having your name appear on public copies of the electoral roll (the copies that political parties and commercial organisations see). In practice it just means that your junk mail will be increasingly erratic as the companies have no standard to correct their records against, if you opt out.

  • fair_deal


    “to blow it up in 1993”

    That is an evil slur on the republican movement 😉

    They planted incediary devices in 1993, they were trying to burn it down not blow it up.

  • Shore Road Resident

    May God forgive me.

  • Crataegus


    I do opt out but name is still on the one supplied to political parties!!!!!!!!

  • heck

    I hope Mick doesn’t accuse me of playing the man but the level of comment on this thread is pathetic.

    This attack on free speech by the Labor government is frightening. Those of us old enough to remember the 60’s can remember that it was almost a necessity to have the red and black poster of Che. If a Moslem college student has a poster of Osama does that mean that he will be carted of to jail?

    I have posted on this site before praising the IRA operation that took out Lenny Murphy, the leader of the Shankill butchers. Does that mean that Mick can be arrested?

    The issue that Danny raises about the diary is very important. There is a basic republican (with a small r) principle that all should be equal before the law. The idea that the possession of literature is OK if one community possesses it but will get others arrested is anathema to that principle.

    Danny suggests in his article that Moslems in Britain should be afraid. They should be VERY afraid.

    Blair is destroying civil liberties in Britain and all unionist bloggers in this site can do is make smart little remarks because some fenian complained about it.

    PS shore road resident, I am an ex shore road resident

  • George

    From O’Leary’s case,

    “Members of the jury, the accused has been found in possession of a document and it will be for you to find beyond reasonable doubt whether it is an “incriminating document” within the definition that I have given to you as set forth in the legislation. If you are satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on that you must also be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that it was in the possession of the accused. Now if you are satisfied on both of these elements you are entitled to convict the accused because the section provides that the possession of an incriminating document shall, without more, be evidence until the contrary is proved that the accused was a member of an unlawful organisation. Here nothing to the contrary has been proved, and therefore you are entitled to convict the accused of the offence etc.”

    In section 2 of the Offences Against the State Act, 1939, the expression “incriminating document” is defined to mean “a document of whatsoever date, or bearing no date, issued by or emanating from an unlawful organisation or appearing to be so issued or so to emanate or purporting or appearing to aid or abet any such organisation or calculated to promote the formation of an unlawful organisation”.

  • Shore Road Resident

    [Removed – that’s blatant man playing SRR. Exile to the Teletubies website is the current punishment of choice on Slugger. So be careful – Mick].

  • Henry94


    If a Moslem college student has a poster of Osama does that mean that he will be carted of to jail?

    I think that would be wise. Let’s put it this way. If you saw the same guy on a bus with a gear bag would you saty on board?

  • BogExile

    ‘There is a basic republican (with a small r) principle that all should be equal before the law.’

    There is a basic law of bollocks (with a small ‘b’) when a sanctimonious shinner, part of an organisation which has condoned, sanctioned and gloated over extra-judicial executions (with free torture) starts to pontificate about the law.

  • heck

    henry 94

    “I think that would be wise”

    Indeed moslems in Britan should be very very afraid.

    Am I the only one who sees a similiary with the the anti red paranoia in the US in the 50’s? Blair is the greatest threat to civil liberties in britain since the second world war.

  • Mickhall


    Excellent points, part of this legislation is aimed at any solidarity action with who-ever the government define as terrorists. It is doubtful if RN/AP could have legally existed under this act. it will also be directed against certain internet sites.

    Would an anti war movement such as emerged during the invasion of Iraq fall foul to this act. It would not be hard to imagine this government claiming those who argue against the Iraqi occupation publicly are aiding terrorist groups who are in conflict with the UK state.

    I cannot see a single thing in the act which was necessary. I wonder if the kerfuffle over three months imprisonment was not deliberately manipulated by the government in the full knowledge they would get 28 days, plus any real debate on the Bills other contents would be closed down.

  • SlugFest

    It’s my understanding that the ’93 hit was an accident … that the IRA was trying for a nearby building (Boots? Was Boots there in ’93?). I don’t remember where i heard that, and have no point of reference onhand, so i admit my argument is a bit shaky.

    On another note, what John Gray created — the Political Collection — is nothing more than a masterpiece, as well as an extremely important piece of history. I’ve spent countless hours rifling through the collection, and always look forward to going back. The librarians there are top-notch, extremely knowledgeable and quite helpful. I once asked one of them (I’d mention his name, but I’m not sure if that’s kosher) a question on security checkpoints in city centre. He couldn’t answer readily, but, to my absolute surprise, handed me a printout a couple of days later … he had been searching for the answer that whole time. To think that anyone or any bill would cast a shadow on the collection itself as well as the librarians dedicated to it is unacceptable.

  • Henry94


    Am I the only one who sees a similiary with the the anti red paranoia in the US in the 50’s?

    Communism murdered millions of people and you think the Americans were paranoid to worry about it? There is a similarity alright in that in both cases the left in Europe supported the mass-miurderers against the democrats. Plus ca change.

    Your suggestion that Moslems in general should be worried about the civil liberties of someone with an OBL poster is misplaced. What they should fear more is the actual guy with the poster. They are as likely to be on that bus as you are.

  • Betty Boo

    Communism murdered millions and the left in Europe supported the mass-murderers against the democrats.

    It must be this time of the month again, eeh boys.

    And by the look of it, the Stasi would properly have wished for such Act but never got it.
    Surely starting war should better not be considered as democratic but it has been the cause for the rising of such laws.

  • heck


    what about this man/ball rule –does it not apply to Republican(with a big R ) commentators?

    Is’nt this bile against DM when he made a valid point about New Labour’s authoritarian policies a violation of the man/ball rule?

    {I was out of the office this pm – it’s gone now]

  • BogExile

    ‘PS: heck, if you’re so upset by criticism of Morrison’s credibility I suggest you have arrange to have the perpetrators shot by an informer then jump out of the bathroom window’

    Well said SRR! They don’t like it up them, Captain Mainwaring!

  • heck

    I understand that unionist don’t (really don’t!)like DM (or GA or MMcG). That is not the point.

    If you don’t like him take on his arguements. (Like Henry94 does). This sites man/ball rule seems to be waived every time DM’s articles are commented on. These hatefull little comments don’t contribute anything and make you all look small.

    He made some good comments on new labour’s authoritian policies and based them on his experiences. Agree or disagree!!!

    Moderator– I stand by my comments that the man/ball rule is not being applied in a uniform way. Would you tolerate such comments on Jim Cusack or Barry White or lindy Mc dowell?

  • bog warrior


    Hardly constructive criticism or even debate SRR. Because you hate the guy you can’t even bear to engage in debate with the argument he puts forward?

  • Crataegus

    The points DM makes are valid and they should worry us all. None of us know the future and any of us could be on the wrong side of a malign government.


    There is a difference between valid and artificial concerns or manipulating enhanced levels of concern. The witch hunts that went on in America in the 50s had nothing to do with the actuality of the threat and many innocent people suffered.

    There has been a series of legislation proposed by New Labour that seeks to limit rights and create new constraints. I cannot see them serving any useful purpose. All I can see happening is more people being wrongfully arrested. This sort of legislation merely favours sloppy and lazy policing. Politically I have my doubts about New Labour and their agenda. Over and over we are seeing legislation on a wide range of issues that is ‘half baked’. It seems unable to either consider what they are proposing in detail or take on board constructive criticism. They are not up to the job.

  • Henry94


    The witch hunts that went on in America in the 50s had nothing to do with the actuality of the threat and many innocent people suffered.

    That is the legend. The reality was that there was a threat and spies were active.

    “Among the most notorious Soviet spies in high-level positions in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations — now proved absolutely, beyond question by the Soviet cables — were Alger Hiss at the State Department; Harry Dexter White, assistant secretary of the Treasury Department, later appointed to the International Monetary Fund by President Truman; Lauchlin Currie, personal assistant to President Roosevelt and White House liaison to the State Department under both Roosevelt and Truman; Laurence Duggan, head of the Latin American Desk at the State Department; Frank Coe, US representative on the International Monetary Fund; Solomon Adler, senior Treasury Department official; Klaus Fuchs, top atomic scientist; and Duncan Lee, senior aide to the head of the OSS.”

  • Mickhall

    Communism murdered millions of people and you think the Americans were paranoid to worry about it? There is a similarity alright in that in both cases the left in Europe supported the mass-murderers against the democrats. Plus ca change.

    Your suggestion that Moslems in general should be worried about the civil liberties of someone with an OBL poster is misplaced. What they should fear more is the actual guy with the poster. They are as likely to be on that bus as you are.

    Posted by Henry94 on Nov 30, 2005 @ 04:04 PM

    Your missing the whole point, the witch hunt in the 1950s, especially in Hollywood and the US trade Unions had little to do with the existence of the USSR and everything to do with suppressing organized labour and progressive thought. In other-words the fear ordinary people had was manipulated to the advantage of a small but powerful section of US society, who in the process took away hard won democratic rights

    I might add I find your comments about it is people who have a Bin laden poster very worrying. A few months ago I was in a market in an Islamic country, a good quarter of the young men were wearing T-shirts with bin Laden photo on them. should they have been arrested, were they all supporters of bin Laden.
    A local guy noticed my surprise and said, do you want one, come, it turned out a stall was selling them for less than 50p, good value.

    Were all those who wore them supporters of bin laden, deserving of arrest, of course not, some may have been, others where making a statement about US/UK involvement in Iraq, but most had brought a bargain T-shirt..

    In the sixties many middle class students brought Che t-shirts and posters, where they revolutionary communists, again of course not, most ended up as Thatcherites. [the bastards]
    Real life mujhadin don’t walk around advertising the fact. That people think they do just points out the danger of this act.

    As to your claim the ‘left’ supported mass murderers, it is plain wrong, yes Stalinist communist parties supported blindly the USSR. but Trotskyists, social democrats and anarchists opposed Stalin and many paid with their lives for doing so. Like all political activists the left has made many mistakes down the years, but not opposing the gulag was not one of them, how could we have done so. many of our old comrades were the first to be imprisoned within it.


  • z

    Morrison is, characteristically, only telling a partial truth. A close relative of mine was the archevist in the NIPRO dealing with this case. I have no idea whether special branch were taking the documents as soon as they were deposited and, I suspect, neither has Morrison. I don’t think they were because my close relative was lifted by the police at the same time as all of Morrison’s comrades. Subsequently the likes of Morrison decided that my relative must have been in league with the police and issued threats direct and indirect against my family.
    As a result another family were forced into exile.
    Morrison should offer some evidence for his claims. However, in retrospect it is difficult to believe the papers really contained anything of great interest to the RUC. I simply do not believe that Sinn Fein were in the habit of depositing such material into the hands of the Northern Ireland civil service.

  • Shore Road Resident

    I suggest you write a letter explaining all that to Daily Ireland. They will publish it at once, because they are committed to free speech and a free press so they are.

  • PaddyReilly

    Communism murdered millions of people? Surely people murdered millions of people.

    The all-too-prevalent idea is that if you come up with a word ending in –ism to describe something you do not like, all is explained and you can tell it to go away. The word ’terrorism’ is used to describe some of the more intractable problems faced by the British state, which are partially or wholly of its own creation.

    In Ireland, a situation where one party was allowed to get away with arms smuggling and overturn the dictates of parliament meant that the other side inevitably tried the same. Broken treaties, broken promises, a failure to arbitrate impartially, all led to the breakdown of proper order.

    In Britain, a failure to control or monitor immigration and nationality means that a substantial population of alien origin and allegiance has built up.

    These two problems have nothing to do with each other, and no useful purpose is served by referring to them both under the heading of ’terrorism’.

    The Osama Bin Laden t-shirt question really says it all. In whatever Levantine souk this was, OBL was a valid hero, and persons with George Bush t-shirts could expect to be knifed to death. In Mohammedan countries, there is frequently a climate of violence which means that other creeds all leave or convert. This, to a large extent, explains the existence of Mohammedans.

    Imprisoning someone for an Osama t-shirt is quite wrong: the appropriate action is to relegate them to a place where such garb is in vogue.

    I would do it this way: persons whose residence/nationality does not derive from ancestral descent would be obliged to sign statements of allegiance. If their actions show them to be in breach of this, they would have their right of residence taken away. If no other country would have them, they would be obliged to live on some remote, British administered island.

    Please note that I do not wish to claim that Osama is evil and Bush/Blair good, or vice versa. They are objectively the same. But the need to separate, thoroughly, their respective supporters remains. That’s what God made oceans for.

  • Crataegus

    There seems to be an assumed link between immigration and terrorism, yet we are quite capable of raising our own home grown variety. Currently we also tend to link Muslims with terrorism. Scurrilously sloppy reporters refer to Muslim terrorists and by so doing brand and vilify all followers of a particular religion.

    When governments seek repressive legislation we have to ask
    • Just how real is the threat?
    • Will the measures make any real and practical
    difference? Will they reduce terrorism?
    • Are the proposals just and reasonable?
    • Does the government have an agenda all of its
    own? Is it playing to the gallery?
    • What are the possibilities of abuse and

    We assume that our future governments will be benign, but anyone who has views that question the perceived norms of society, say supporters of Green Peace or people who question Free Market Globalisation would do well to ask if this sort of legislation could be used against them.

  • DK

    It is a sad truth that the previous prevention of terrorism act has been used many times, but only a very few times against actual terrorists. Mostly it has been used as a weapon of convenience against vaguely anti-social types: of over 700 arrested only 17 were convicted (mostly white, interestingly). There have been high profile cases, such as the (white, blonde) schoolgirl walking on grass to the anoyance of the local parkie.

    Same will happen with this legislation – so expect to get locked up for 28 days for letting your dog foul next to a cctv camera.

  • aquifer

    “Would an anti war movement such as emerged during the invasion of Iraq fall foul to this act. ”

    One would hope not, as pacifists rarely resort to or encourage armed attacks on civilians.

    For me at least, terrorism is the resort to armed attacks and subversion when other less violent means of promoting change are open. In a world awash with money, military technology, and different belief systems, to tolerate terrorism, or to denigrate democracy, is folly. Terrorism, like nuclear weapons, is cheap. The means to promote terrorism are accessible to very small groups with meagre resources, who may have beliefs which are not only unpopular but plain batty.

    They should enjoy no privilege when they threaten our right to life to promote thier political daubings, nor should we ignore their disregard for the human rights both of their political opponents and their actual and potential supporters. In their inner workings, such groups are often bonded by coercion.

    The practice of terrorism, or political coercion, is routinely a criminal conspiracy where acts which would not normally be illegal, and certainly would not be illegal in people who would not consider harming others, must become so because of the real connections to a campaign inclusive of acts of violence by choice, not by necessity.

    Terrorism may work, or it may prove counterproductive, but where other options are open, it is self-indulgent, and plain wrong in human terms.

  • In reply to z.

    Why I say the documents were seized over a period is that that was the information given to us by the lawyers. It was supported by the fact that the RUC had already read them, sorted them and finger-printed them by the time Tom Hartley and others were arrested in April 1978, questioned and charged. Logistically, they would not have had time to do and prepare a case immediately after the arrests.
    None of this suggests – nor did I suggest – that the man at the NIPRO [z’s relative] had knowledge of this or was the person responsible.
    I was aware that someone at the NIPRO was liaising with Tom Hartley or through an intermediary for the receipt of the documents. I was later told that this man fled because he feared that he might have been suspected of voluntarily cooperating with the RUC – but Tom Hartley told me that he never suspected that and viewed the man as a victim. I am thus very surprised to hear that he and his family were intimidated out of their home. I don’t know the man in question or his name and I did not intimidate him. Though z said, “the likes of Morrison”, it was clearly a dig to put me into the frame – which was ironic given the subject that was being discussed.
    The evidence that the documents were of use to the RUC is that I was charged on the basis of those deposited in the NIPRO. The story was in the newspapers at the time and was on my charge sheet – and the UVF statement in my handwriting [from the NIPRPO file] was the basis for my successful bail application. If that isn’t clear I don’t know how to convince z otherwise.
    – Danny Morrison

  • Shore Road Resident

    Why not see if you can get an IRA statement acknowledging that the man was intimidated out of the country, that this was wrong and that he and his family are free to return home?

    Or are you completely useless these days?

  • z

    The man in question is dead now, so no statement from Danny Morrison is ever going to assist in that regard.

    Danny Morrison’s story still doesn’t hang together (I am not saying he’s wrong I am just saying he doesn’t know if he’s right) as actually the RUC lifted the man in March and he left Ireland in that month. So obviously there was time between then and the arrest for the RUC to catalogue the material.

    I was not accusing Danny Morrison of personally intimidating anyone – though his record in such matters is well known and not in dispute.

    I *am* accusing the Republican movement however. When I last looked Danny Morrison was proud of his membership of that Movement, so it seems to me fair comment to describe the movement in the way I did.

    There were several stories written in threatening and menacing terms in the Andersonstown News – some almost a year later. So maybe Tom Hartley regarded the man as a victim but clearly those republicans who briefed the AN thought otherwise.

    I am not going to defend the RUC. My point was that I didn’t imagine they had much of a case.