Merlyn Rees announces the withdrawal of SCS (1975)




Addressing the House of Commons on November 4th 1975, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Merlyn Rees declared his intention to withdraw Special Category Status (SCS), effective March 1st 1976:



“The year 1975 has faced us with a totally different set of security problems. In the previous two years the overwhelming feature was the campaign of virtually unrestricted violence of the Provisional IRA, though it was accompanied by an undercurrent of sectarian murder. This year there have been fewer bombs and fewer attacks on security forces, though in recent months these have been increasing, and the Provisional IRA must bear a large part of the guilt.

The prime emphasis this year has been on sectarian and interfactional killings. The figures speak for themselves. In all, 207 people have been killed, of whom 188 were civilians, and of these 157 have been classed as sectarian or interfactional murders. The UVF has played a prominent part in them…

This is gangsterism. There is no other word for it. It can and will be dealt with by effective policing with the full support of the Army. The people responsible must be arrested and brought before the courts. This is the very strong view that I put before the House…

Despite the fact that the number of detainees has fallen from 545 to 175, the number of Special Category prisoners has increased from 1,092 to 1,465. The House will know that male Special Category prisoners are not in cells but live a collaborative life in compound conditions… It seems to me that nearly everyone who claims [SCS] is granted it.

Whatever was the validity at the time—and I understood and supported the action then—in the new situation I am sure that it is wrong. I want to end this system…

The new prison building program will enable me to begin to bring to an end Special Category Status. The facilities are not there for me to deal with those who have already been admitted to Special Category Status. They will not be affected. But those sentenced for offences committed after March 1st 1976 will be accommodated in cellular accommodation and will not be able to claim Special Category Status. Special Category Status is to end – slowly, I admit.

There is a widespread belief in Northern Ireland that an amnesty will come. Special Category Status is thought by some to reinforce this belief. There are those who think that the Special Category means that the prisoner is different. He may have murdered… It may be felt that doing this is political and that this makes it a Special Category, that such people are special, and that the day will come when there will be an amnesty. I wish now to make it clear that there will be no amnesty. Those who purport to believe that if murder and bombing have a convenient political label, it means that they will receive an amnesty, tragically mislead themselves. Let there be no misunderstanding of this.”

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