Bruce Kent’s involvement with matters Irish has come in all shapes and sizes throughout his life. A serving soldier in the North at the Palace Barracks outside Belfast for a few months in 1948, a helper to Sister Sarah Clarke’s in her efforts to support Irish miscarriage of justice victims and a steadfast battler for prisoner’s rights and peace.
Bruce recalled when serving as a priest being asked where he was from. “I’d say Golders Green, and then the silver mines of Tipperary, where my great grandmother came from,” said Bruce, who reveals that is mother was a devout Irish Canadian Catholic.
His short time in Ireland as part of the British army nevertheless opened his eyes. “I remember seeing the papers at the back of churches in Gaelic. Then realising that all the history we had been taught in England was about Henry VIII and his wives. There was nothing about Irish partition or the civil war – it was pathetic that this was not brought up in school,” said Bruce, who realised at that time the depth of the prejudice.
Bruce Kent has spent much of his life involved with miscarriage of justice issues. Most recently he has been pressing the case of Raymond Gilbert, who remains in prison for a murder in a Liverpool bookmakers in 1981 which he insists he did not commit. The other man convicted of the murder, John Kamara, was freed by the Court of Appeal in 2000. Gilbert remains in prison partly because he will not admit to any guilt.
Bruce's involvement with the issue though really took off at the time when Sister Sarah Clarke was supporting the families of the Irish miscarriage of justice victims. “Sister Sarah used me to find safe houses and places for relations to stay when they came over visiting,” said Bruce, who was impressed with the efforts of Cardinal Basil Hume on behalf of the Conlon family. He is though dismayed that the Church today is not taking up prisoner’s issues and particularly those of miscarriages of justice.
Bruce suggests that if 10 per cent of those in prison today are innocent then that amounts to 9,000 people which is a real scandal.
One area where Bruce has been particularly involved over recent years has been with those Muslim men being held in detention either under control order style house arrest or in prison. One individual he has supported has been Mustapha Taleb. He was originally arrested and tried in connection with what became known in media parlance as the ricin plot. No ricin was found and Taleb together with a number of others accused was cleared in the courts. This though did not stop him being picked up in 2005 and placed under a control order. Since that time he has been detained in prison and then released again under control order style detention. “He and the others being detained in this way don’t know who has accused them or what they are accused of,” said Bruce, who sees Taleb as being in this limbo situation of detention for many years to come as his case eventually reaches the appeal court then the supreme court and the European Court of Human Rights.
Bruce sees this means of detaining people under anti-terror law for long periods with no recourse to a properly constituted court of law as having its antecedents in the Irish situation and successive Prevention of Terrorism Acts. He sees real parallels between the way the Irish were treated in the years of the Troubles and the Muslims today. “The difference is that the Irish did have support right up to Cardinal Hume, the Muslims have no one,” said Bruce, who believes the present approach to addressing terrorism, is likely to increase resentment and help create terrorists.
The former priest believes that the attitude to nuclear power and particularly nuclear weapons is reckless. He sees humankind not acting as a trustee for the world but storing up dangerous nuclear waste that has a life running into thousands of years.
The anti-nuclear campaigner is disappointed that there has been so little progress toward abolition of nuclear weapons. He does not believe countries are serious about getting rid of this dangerous technology. Of the big five countries on the UN Security Council, only China favour no first use. They have talked of limited deployment of nuclear weapons and are willing to start negotiations on abolition. “How can we tell Iran they should not have nuclear weapons when we are committed to developing a new generation,” said Bruce, who is pleased that the Church has spoken out for abolition. “Individuals like Cardinal Keith O’Brien and the Bishop of Brentwood Thomas McMahon have been marvellous in speaking out on the issue,” said Bruce, who is keen that the link between spending on nuclear technology and poverty be made more clearly by the Church.
Bruce is also concerned about the attacks on Libya of recent weeks, pointing out that under Article 42 of the UN Charter every other means must be pursued before a war is started. “In Libya and many other recent conflicts this has clearly not been the case,” said Bruce, who admits that he always enjoys his trips to Ireland talking on issues of justice and peace. “It is always like a breath of fresh air to me,” said Bruce.