Seanad Éireann - Volume 165 - 27 February, 2001

Adjournment Matters. - Arrest of Irish Women in Scotland.

Mr. Costello: I wish to inquire from the Minister for Foreign Affairs why five Irish women were strip searched in the course of a protest at the Trident nuclear submarine base in Faslane, Glasgow. My query refers to a peaceful protest that took place on 12 February and which was attended by 75 Irish people. About 150 people were present at the time the arrests took place. I will read the account of what happened after the arrests from one of the women who was arrested and strip searched. She said:

The first eight of us were brought in a van to Kilmarnock Prison by Strathclyde police. There we were lined up with female police wearing rubber gloves, in a line across from us. We were brought, one by one, out to a head policeman who told the two policewomen escorting us to hold on to us while he informed us of our arrest and asked if we wanted to phone our lawyer. As we had been told in advance to get the police to ring our legal support, that was what we did. Then, one by one, we were brought into a small room and strip searched by two policewomen. We were then brought back out and had our possessions taken. We were not allowed to keep cardigans on and as a result got cold in the cell later on. They would not give us our spectacles or reading material. I was made to see the doctor and she told me I would be in court the next day, and then in prison. I did not really believe this as the protest organisers had told us very few people are charged. However, they did not tell us that strip searching was a possibility as it has never happened before at Faslane protests. There were only eight of us strip searched out of 350 arrests. We were locked up, three together in a tiny cell with nothing in it except a toilet. At about 5.30 p.m. we were finger-printed, mugs shots were taken and back in the cells that evening.

As I understand it, 350 arrests were made and eight women were strip searched. Five of those women were Irish. The others were French and Italian. Why should this have happened? It had not happened before. What was the justification [680] for it? Why was there selective discrimination against the Irish women who were there? I would like to know what the Minister has done to determine why this outrageous incident occurred. Has the Minister received any commitments that it will not recur?

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Éamon Ó Cuív): Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh don tSeanadóir as ucht an cheist seo a thógáil.

Some 375 of the thousand or so people of many nationalities who participated in the demonstration at Faslane on 12 February 2001 were arrested and, so far, one person has been charged. At the time of the demonstration, the Irish Consulate-General in Edinburgh contacted the Strathclyde police to ascertain whether any Irish citizens had been detained and was informed that all the people arrested had been released without charge. The Consulate-General has since been told by the Strathclyde police that 27 people with addresses in this jurisdiction – 11 of them male, 16 female, and people with addresses in Northern Ireland – were among those arrested.

The Minister received a complaint from the mother of one of the girls allegedly strip searched, who claimed that five other girls, four of them Irish, had been treated in the same way. On foot of this, the Consulate-General wrote to the chief constable of the Strathclyde police asking that the complaint be investigated. Contact has also been made with the Scottish Department of Justice which assured the Consulate-General that the matter would be dealt with thoroughly and urgently, and that a full report would be sent to the Consulate-General. Strathclyde police have also been informed that the matter has been raised in this House.

I share the Senator's concern regarding this complaint and its implications but it is important that we should not jump to conclusions prematurely. The Scottish authorities are being pressed for an early response and as soon as the report of the police is received the Senator will be contacted directly.

Mr. Costello: I raised this matter with a number of British colleagues, in particular Members of the Scottish Parliament, yesterday at the meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body. They will raise the matter in the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons. Complaints have been registered already and should be on file. I look forward to the full report.