In 1970s Northern Ireland, there was great unrest and violence in Northern Ireland. Hundreds were killed every year by militant groups, from both Catholic and Protestant backgrounds, over the union of Ireland and the Protestant strong hold over the mostly Catholic country. The violence was mainly carried out by the Catholic militant group known as the Irish Republican Army (the IRA), which killed thousands during its violent mission to break from the United Kingdom and rejoin the Republic of Ireland. This violence resulted in desperate measures being implemented by Westminster, as Northern Ireland failed to have a stable government. These measures included arrests, without warrants, and prolonged detention, often without reason, of IRA members, suspected or confirmed. As a result of these measures, there was great distrust for the police in Northern Ireland, to the detriment of both sides. This violent political unrest lasted for a decade and devastated many lives and families. The treatment of those arrested and detained was horrific, violated a lot of human rights and could amount to torture.
Those arrested, often on “suspicion of IRA” involvement, were detained for long periods of time without access to legal representation, a court system or an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. They were subjected to five “interrogation techniques” used to extract information on IRA members and plans. These included being forced to stand spread-eagle against a wall, supporting their whole body weight on their fingertips; sleep deprivation; food and water deprivation; wearing a hood at all times; and, subjection to loud noises for long periods of time. The suspects were also beaten and severely injured. Despite evidence of such techniques being employed by members of the UK security forces the European Court of Human Rights failed to find use of torture by the UK government in respect of these detained men, known as the “Hooded Men”. The judgement feels unjust when read. Though the situation in Northern Ireland was violent, frightening and life-threatening, the systematic use of torture by an established government can never be justified. Many of those arrested and interrogated were not core members of the organisation. None of those arrested were able to access legal representation or offer a defense. The treatment of the Hooded Men was horrific, violent and both physically, and psychologically, torturous.
The Irish government has since appealed this decision in 2014, though it was dismissed in 2017. In 2018, the Irish government has appealed to the Grand Chamber. There is no justification of torture, especially by an established State. The use of such cruel “techniques” and physical abuse endured by Hooded Men is unjust and unjustifiable. A State cannot engage in illegal practices and in this case, the use of torture and prolonged detention worsened the relationship between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and especially created a distrust between the Catholic population and the police.