Marian Price is the only woman political prisoner in Northern Ireland. She is effectively interned and could spend the rest of her life in a British prison without a trial, sentence, release date or even a date when the Parole Commission will review her case.
Unless the courts intervene, she will only be released by order of a British Cabinet Minister, Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Twice she has been arrested and brought before a non-jury Diplock Court. Twice a judge has ordered her released on bail. Each time Owen Paterson overruled the judge and ordered her back toprison. He said that he was revoking her license (parole in American terms).
In May, she was charged with “encouraging support for an illegal organization” after she held up a piece of paper from which a masked man read a statement. Northern Ireland must be one of the very few places where holding up a piece of paper can constitute a crime.
In July, she was charged with “providing property for the purposes of terrorism.” She was accused of giving a cell phone to someone who participated in the killing of two British soldiers. She had been questioned about this and released 18 months before being charged. Her solicitor, Peter Corrigan, told the BBC that there was no new evidence against her. Once again she was released on bail, and, again, Owen Paterson said he was revoking her license and ordered her back to prison.
But Marian Price and her legal team insist that she was never actually on license. They say that after being convicted of IRA bombings in Britain, she received a full royal pardon (the “Royal Prerogative of Mercy”) when she was freed in 1980 after she appeared to be on the brink of death from severe anorexia nervosa.
The Northern Ireland Office now says the pardon “cannot be located” – that it has been lost or shredded. Peter Corrigan recently told a Belfast meeting that this is the only time in the entire history of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy that a pardon has gone missing. The veteran human rights campaigner, Monsignor Raymond Murray, said that “You can draw your own conclusions.”
Still, Marian Price remains in prison. Her lawyers plan to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
There is good reason to be concerned about Marian Price’s health and well being. She has been in solitary confinement for more than 300 days although the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture called for totally prohibiting solitary confinement for more than 15 days.
Her health was permanently damaged when she was force fed over 400 times when she was on hunger strike in a British prison. She described the force feeding thus in an interview with Suzanne Breen in The Village magazine:
Four male prison officers tie you into the chair so tightly with sheets you can’t struggle. You clench your teeth to try to keep your mouth closed but they push a metal spring device around your jaw to prise it open. They force a wooden clamp with a hole in the middle into your mouth. Then, they insert a big rubber tube down that. They hold your head back. You can’t speak or move. You’re frightened you’ll choke to death.
Marian Price’s husband, Jerry McGlinchey, said in an interview with “Radio Free Eireann” that he is “very, very worried” about her health. He says she never recovered from the force feeding which caused tuberculosis that had to be treated as recently as 2010. The anorexia has returned and she suffers from such severe arthritis that she can’t even open her hand. McGlinchey believes that Marian’s health will get steadily worse as long as she is in solitary confinement. He said: “My fear is that Marian will slip into a deep depression that it would take her years to come out of. I believe that is what the government intends.”
Very few people in Ireland, or Irish America, agree with Marian Price’s politics. She is a “dissident” Irish republican who believes in the necessity of an armed struggle to end British rule. Nevertheless, both Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour Party have called for her release.
But what is at stake is more than Marian Price or her politics. The Irish civil rights leader Bernadette Devlin McAliskey told the Belfast meeting:
From the government’s perspective it is a clear signal to everybody who is not “on board” and who is not of the same mind as the government: that no dissent will be tolerated. No dissent will be tolerated and you challenge the status quo at your peril.
There will be a program of music and readings in solidarity with Marian Price on Sunday April 22 at 2 p.m. at Rocky Sullivan’s of Red Hook.
Sandy Boyer is the co-host of “Radio Free Eireann” broadcast Saturdays at 1 p.m. on WBAI, 99.5 FM or wbai.org. Over the years he has helped to mobilize support for political prisoners including Roisin McAliskey, the Birmingham 6, Pól Brennan and Joe Doherty.