Trouble, but not the Troubles
Outside the main door of Court Number 1 in Craigavon it’s like a throwback to the old days of Crumlin Road Courthouse in Belfast.
Inches away from each other, the police and defendants. The guardians of the state and the Republicans who would see it done away with for their United Ireland.
The old green police uniforms and flak jackets of the RUC long gone, in favour of the modern whites and blacks of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Equally, the Republicans’ Celtic shirts have also changed with the years.
The defendants – and there are 15 or so of them, are largely from Republican Sinn Fein which still believes in fighting for a united Ireland – with force if need be.
And yet the issue before District Judge Bates is hardly the stuff of the Troubles; bombing, gun attacks and so forth.
Bizarrely it is utterly mundane. However, the British state – busily cutting so many other aspects of public life – seems to be throwing everything at this weird case.
No. These would-be Republican revolutionaries stand charged with nothing more than holding a peaceful protest march a year ago.
Not much happened, some music and a few score Republicans marching around the streets of Lurgan to protest at the treatment of one of their prisoners.
Their crime is not seeking prior permission from the authorities of a state they do not recognise, to walk the streets and hold their placards.
Because they don’t recognise the jurisdiction of the British state, they were not about to seek permission.
So, charged under Parades Legislation designed to govern marches of a more Orange hue then green, this bizarre case unfolds.
Lawyers, at least 13 police officers called as witnesses and half-a-dozen defence lawyers – the latter openly amazed that the British state is bothering.
Republican Sinn Fein’s President and Vice-President sit in the dock. It’s too small to accommodate all the others.
The cost must run to hundreds of thousands of pounds already and the state has yet to finish its case.
Why bother? Upholding the law is all well and good but, if guilty, many of these defendants will likely refuse to pay any fines.
Therefore short prison terms and martyr-creation and yet more expense for a hard-pressed state appear the only outcomes.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Follow Alex Thomson on Twitter: @alextomo
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