Twenty five years ago today, on December 9th 1989, a public event took place in Dublin that has resonated since. In my own life, it introduced me to new approaches and colleagues that would shape much of my work for two decades afterwards. For others the impact was much deeper than that. Men and women wrongly imprisoned were reunited with their families; police forces were discredited; parliaments were humbled into apology.
“The Parade of Innocence” was a protest to highlight the prolonged incarceration of the Birminghman Six, the Guildford Four (who had just been released on appeal), Judith Ward and a number of other Irish people wrongfully imprisoned in Britain. It was the result of a collaboration among justice and human rights campaigners, prisoners’ families, trade union activists and artists. It combined artistic street spectacle with intelligent political advocacy and mass community action, changing the nature of protest in Dublin and radicalising a generation of theatre, film, musical and visual artists. A number of follow-on events of similar ambition took place until the Birmingham Six were eventually released, 15 months later, in March of 1991.
As a member of the Coordinating Committee of the Miscarriages of Justice Campaign, and the affiliated group of artists known simply as Parade, part of my role at the time was to write about the campaign in various journals. I recently uncovered some of those articles and artefacts and have made copies available to Dr. Charlotte McIvor of NUI Galway who is carrying out ongoing academic research into the role of the arts in political advocacy and change in modern Ireland. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary, I am reproducing some of them here out of historical interest.
– a short article first published in the Independent Theatre Association’s newsletter and then reprinted in “Cues“, the magazine of Irish Actors’ Equity. This article also has quotes from a number of artists who took part;
– a later in-depth piece from “The Irish Reporter“, a current affairs journal edited by Carol Coulter, (1991). This takes up the story at the point where the artists’ group, now acting independently, made a submission to the committee charged with overseeing the official 75th Anniversary Celebrations of the 1916 Rising. That committee blocked the proposal outright (a leaked minute described it as “an attack on our democracy”). The article goes on to recall further detail and descriptions of the 1989 Parade of Innocence.
– detail from an advocacy pack designed by Charlie O’Neill for the Miscarriages of Justice Campaign.
Most, if not all, of the pictures on these scanned pages are by the renowned photo-journalist Derek Speirs whose images of Ireland in that period are of immense historical value. Bear in mind these are reproductions of reproductions and do not do full justice to Derek’s work. I’ve copied the scans here large-size so that not only can the photos be discerned, but hopefully some people may read the texts. I hope that others involved may also write this week of their recollections of that historic period.
The prisoners at the centre of this movement came in time to be vindicated and the corrupt justice system that had kept them locked away for fifteen years exposed. For many of them, the nightmare did not end with their release from prison or even their exoneration. The psychological and social damage of wrongful imprisonment lasts a lifetime. It is important that we remember them and their families at times like this, while also cherishing a moment when artists and community activists united and protest made a true difference.
In memory of Gerry Conlon and Richard McIlkenny