Sinn Fein published this handbill titled “Stop Press: Inhumanity In Belfast Jail,” in June 1918. It was published after political prisoners being held in the Belfast jail complained that they were being poorly treated. The contents of the handbill states:
“Stop Press. Inhumanity In Belfast Jail. Since Thursday night the Sinn Fein Prisoners in Belfast Jail have been handcuffed with their hands behind their backs, even at meal times. They have not been able to undress or leave their cells since that time. Six of them are in hospital because of the maltreatment meted out to them by the police brought in from Belfast. A water hose was turned on them while they were locked in the cells and they were left lying in handcuffs in their wet clothes. All this because the prisoners protested against the breaking of the conditions as arranged by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. This is Freedom for Small Nations. BUT OUR DAY IS COMING. GET READY.”
These accusations were brought up in the British Parliament and taken quite seriously by a few of the MPs. The Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, Fifth Series-Volume 10 covers the house of commons debate period from 15 October through 21 November 1918, and provides insight into the debates surrounding the treatment of prisoners in Belfast jail. Due to the nature of the accusations it was agreed that an inquiry would be established to investigate the prisoners’ claims of maltreatment.
On 21 October 1918, Mr. Tim Healy, MP brought up the grievance that ninety-one prisoners were handcuffed for 4 days straight from Thursday through Sunday. They were forced to attend mass handcuffed, as well as remain handcuffed while in their cells. They were kept in basement cells with no furniture or bedding, and were tortured at various times during their imprisonment.
Mr. Joseph King, MP, presented parliament with a copy of the handbill seen here and stated that the leaflets had been distributed throughout Dublin at the end of June 1918. King outlined how the government had sought to suppress the leaflet, as well as the news of the mistreatment of the prisoners. He stated that, “A young boy was arrested for distributing these leaflets. He was kept a whole week in solitary confinement. He was brought up in Dublin before Mr. Swifte, the magistrate, and charged with an offence under the Defense of the Realm Regulations. Mr Swifte saw that there was nothing in this leaflet which had anything to do with the Defense of the Realm Regulations, and the young lad was let free after undergoing a week’s solitary confinement.” King continued with a scathing rebuke of the governments’ handling of the situation by stating, “That is the sort of vindictive illegal way in which the Government has treated this business from beginning to end.” He concluded his statement by saying “I pity Irish prisoners. Our prisoners in Germany have suffered horribly, but do not Irish prisoners in their own land suffer just as much brutality and cruelty and inhumanity?”
The goal of this handbill was to spread the news of the mistreatment of prisoners and to raise awareness of the issue. Since the handbill was mentioned in Parliament during a fiery debate over the mistreatment of prisoners and the need for an inquiry to look into the matter, then the handbill succeeded in achieving its goal. Without the handbill to help quickly spread the news of the abuse being carried out in Belfast jail, prisoners would likely have continued enduring torture and harsh conditions. By spotlighting the issue, the political prisoners were at least able to be treated with the same fairness as others who were imprisoned there.
1. The Parliamentary Debates: Official Report. Fifth Series-Volume 110 (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1918), 555-556.
2.The Parliamentary Debates: Official Report. Fifth Series-Volume 110 (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1918), 563.
3.The Parliamentary Debates: Official Report. Fifth Series-Volume 110 (London: His Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1918), 564-566.