Late March 1976 to the first week in April of the same year saw over 40 Irish citizens questioned, detained, or arrested. Eighteen were targeted for torture. Six were framed with a criminal offence.
All those arrested were associated by formal membership, by family or friendship to members of a legal and newly register political party, the Irish Republican Socialist Party. If unrelated in any of these ways they were arrested because they could exonerate those arrested by confirming alibis.
The party was an all-Ireland left-leaning socialist and republican organisation. It campaigned on social and constitutional issues and took its seats on election. It wanted regime change to ensure Irish unity and wealth sharing.
Taoiseach/Prime Minister Liam Cosgrave illegally and unconstitutionally conspired with the British Government, in a joint operation, to destroy the newly formed Irish Republican Socialist Party. Cosgrave’s party (Fine Gael) had a history of supressing republicans. His own father was Taoiseach/Prime Minister when republicans were executed without trial some years earlier.
The joint British-Irish operation to destroy the party involved: infiltration and the placing of agent provocateurs in the organisation; a media campaign to isolate and blacken the party; intimidation of members; false arrests; incarceration of members; assassinations and murder through British agents.
It was perceived by a government, itself sliding the country towards a fascist state, as a threat to national security. In the North of Ireland, 3 members were murdered and 30 wounded. In the South, an attempt was made to assassinate the party chairperson. Members were targeted for low intensity harassment on the street or at work, during house searches and routine 48- hour jailing by police. Many crimes and robberies were falsely attributed to members, proofed by the lack of any evidence or subsequent legal follow up. Regular press releases issued by the Party complained of these attacks and the consequent reputational damage. Many of those detained claimed the Gardai said they would smash the party.
THE HIT LIST
Eighteen victims of the mass arrest were isolated and denied solicitors in garda stations across Dublin. Then the torture of 11 prisoners commenced as The Heavy Gang went to work trying to get the prisoners to self- incriminate and to ‘confirm’ others from a pre-existing Garda list. At the time, Taoiseach/Prime Minister Cosgrave believed that anyone merely implicated in a statement could be charged as a co-conspirator. Of importance was the extensive list the police wanted their suspects to confirm.
Many prisoners- even unconnected prisoners in the Garda Station that night- all reported hearing screams in the Bridewell.
The torture consisted of a mix of insults, threats, stress positions, deprivation of water and sleep, denial of legal rights, escalating to ear-clapping, body assaults, kicks, being coshed, threats to be shot, threats to arrest families, threats to put children into care- all on a continuous basis by teams of gardaí, for hours and days.
In retrospect, it can be said that the party never recovered from the attack.