We are reminding ourselves this evening of the importance of every human being – the concrete historical, live individual, the person with a name. The name today is Marian Price. All morality, Christianity and human rights, at least a person’s commitment to these things, can be summed up in our attitude to this man or woman with a name – not some abstract man or woman. A person with dignity like Marian Price.
I was Catholic Chaplain in Armagh Gaol from September 1967 to June 1986, nineteen years. Marian and Dolours Price were prisoners there within that period and I was well acquainted with them. On 12 March 1973, with eight others, they were charged with conspiring to cause explosions in London on 8 March 1973. They were jailed for life and went on hunger strike at the end of November 1973 for transfer to prison in the North. They were artificially fed from 3 December 1973 to 18 May 1974. Hugh Feeney and Gerard Kelly, imprisoned with them, also went on hunger strike. On 8 June 1974 all four ended their hunger strike after 206 days. On 13 December 1974 the sisters were transferred from Brixton Prison to Durham. On 18 March 1975 it was announced that they had been transferred to Armagh Prison. During their imprisonment both sisters suffered from severe illnesses. In my chaplaincy files I succeeded in collecting documents on reactions to their serious medical reports. So severe was their sickness that both women received an accelerated release. Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, the Papal Nuncio, the Taoiseach were among the concerned people who pleaded for their release on the grounds of ill-health. Unfortunately even after their release they suffered from some recurring illnesses. Added to this Marian Price suffers from severe arthritis. Then after 37 years what happened? – Marian Price was interned. She has now been interned for 17 months.
The then Secretary of State, Mr Owen Paterson, in May 2011, revoked Marian Price’s license after the judge had granted her bail in a court case regarding holding up a sheet of paper for a masked man to read at an Easter commemoration 2011. She was rearrested under an order signed by the Secretary of State the previous evening. The basis of her detention was and continues to be this order revoking her license. It is understood that the Parole Commissioners assumed jurisdiction despite the doubt about the legality of this license revocation. This severe action of revocation of the license has had strong repercussions among the nationalist community who look upon his action as a form of internment. Internment mainly against Catholics in the 1970s was one of the main causes of the continuation of conflict in the North and followed the tradition of the British Government who had cruelly imposed internment on nationalists in every decade of the Stormont Government régime. As you will remember the internment of 1971 involved ill-treatment and torture.
The use of Diplock Courts – special courts - during the conflict in the North of Ireland occurred in a context of diminishing confidence in the law and especially among the Catholic population. It went with special powers acts, emergency laws not used impartially but abused, internment, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, ill-treatment illegally by agents of the law, use of verbal statements and super grasses; blackmail of young persons by security forces, semi-official assassinations, collusion of security forces with loyalist paramilitaries and official ‘shoot-to-kill’ policies. Even in prison injustice continued for internees - the injustice of the Long Kesh Appeal Tribunals of 1972 still haunt us. There must no longer remain in the North of Ireland a trace of the violation of law by government in its laws and its law agents. Confidence in the law is extremely important. The internment of Marian Price is a supreme example of injustice. As regards justice – we are back to the old days again under a new Stormont government. Is the injustice shown to Marian Price an erosion of the peace process?
The cruel attitude of the Secretary of State has been shown in the question of pardon (the royal prerogative of mercy) granted to Marian Price in 1980. Kevin R. Winters & Co. Solicitors representing Marian Price claims that she was not even subject to a license when taken into custody in May 2011 having been pardoned in 1980 by a Royal Prerogative of Mercy. The public have been astounded to learn that the British authorities either shredded the pardon document or just cannot find it – or so they say. They have failed to locate it. Now Marian Price’s case has already widened into a global concern regarding injustice on the part of the British Government. Her plight is receiving the attention of international human rights organizations, the United Nations, the British Red Cross, British Irish Rights Watch, The Pat Finucane Centre, Relatives for Justice, the Brehon Law Society New York. There have been resolutions of condemnation from Councils across Ireland – the latest coming from Galway City Council and Galway County Council. Her condition is receiving the attention and condemnation of concerned citizens at home like Mairead Corrigan, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and condemnations from abroad, especially from the United States.
The Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Tánaiste in the Irish Government have made overtures concerning her plight with the British Government. Marian’s arrest was followed by her cruel detention in solitary confinement in Maghaberry Prison, the men’s prison, for ten months. Her isolation from other people was a serious cause of worry to her family and added to the severity of her ill-health.
I wrote to Mr Owen Paterson, the Secretary of Sate on 2 February 2012 outlining details of her case and condition and sent copies to the Taoiseach and the Deputy First Minister at Stormont. He replied on 23 February 2012. He said that in accordance with the Life Sentence (Northern Ireland) Order 2001 which governs the license regime and provides for the revocation of someone’s license where it is necessary for the protection of the public and to prevent the commission of further offences, he sought a recommendation from the independent Parole Commissioners and they recommended that Marian be returned to prison because of the serious risk she posed to the public. He then revoked her license. The judge in court had granted her bail. Paterson said that the Parole Commissioners would review the case in full and the decision on Marian’s suitability for release rests with the Parole Commissioners. We are waiting. He said that Marian was released on license from the life sentence and that the Royal Prerogative of Mercy only relates to the 20 years sentence – I wondered did he have a copy of that document and he wouldn’t let us see the terms. Following previous requests it had already been announced that the document had been lost or shredded. I wrote to him three times after that. He would not answer my questions - I asked: 1: did he study the serious medical reports on the Price sisters at the time they were released in 1980 before he jailed Marian - no answer. 2: I asked - how did he know the Prerogative of Mercy applied to the 20 year sentence – he did not send documentation or answer that question in any way. 3: He would not say when the Parole Commissioners would meet again. He ceased to personally answer my letters; the first letter I received after that was signed with a tiny scratch, not printing his name. I complained about that.
It is 31 years since Marian was released from Armagh Prison. Due to Mr Paterson’s action she has already served 17 months in prison. Despite her ill-health, when jailed, she was held in solitary confinement, isolated, in the men’s High Security Prison, Maghaberry. Her health deteriorated quickly and very seriously. On Friday 17 February, following advice from the Health Care Staff of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Marian was transferred from Maghaberry Prison to the Women’s Prison, Hydebank Wood. That was the day after more than 200 concerned citizens gathered at a meeting in the Tower Hotel Derry.
Damian and Clare, brother and sister of Marian, saw her at Hydebank on Saturday 3 March and reported to me then the urgency of her situation. They said:
A bad situation has been made worse by this move to Hydebank, the end of a corridor in isolation, an environment of constant interruptions which is totally unsettling. People arrive unannounced. The lack of privacy is degrading. A male security officer does the nightly check (looks through the peep-hole). She feels like she is ‘in a zoo’ with so many unwanted so-called ‘visitors’. Two UN doctors, after delays, visited her and reported to the Minister for Justice, Mr David Ford.
When her health worsened Marian was brought on 22 June to Windsor House, the City Hospital, Belfast. Marian was told on the morning of the 16th August 2012 that she was to be taken to another hospital for treatment. The appointment was scheduled for the same afternoon. Prison officers entered Marian's hospital ward and double handcuffed her. Both hands cuffed together and another handcuff attached to a prison officer. Marian was transported to Musgrave Park Hospital where a PSNI presence was very obvious both inside and outside the building. Two PSNI officers and three members of the POA accompanied Marian throughout the hospital visit. In addition other PSNI personnel were in close proximity. Throughout the treatment the two PSNI officers stood just outside the door and the POA staff was also present. Marian received the first of the steroid injections aimed at addressing a serious flare up of her chronic arthritic condition. She has also been put on a list to receive innovative treatment which may help alleviate some of the severe pain she is enduring. During the consultation Marian had to produce a urine sample and was escorted to the cubicle by all the POA staff and both PSNI officers. The public and patients witnessed the whole exercise. Marian was handcuffed again after treatment and returned to the hospital unit she is presently held in. Marian sister, Dr Clare Murphy, has written detailed letters to Mr David Ford, Minister for Justice relating to her legal/medical affairs. I have copies of them with me.
It is important to note that this was the first time throughout Marian's present imprisonment that this practice has taken place.
Marian in recent years had a wrist joint replacement and other surgery to her hands in Musgrave Park Hospital. It was noted on her return from Musgrave on the 16th of August that both her wrists were bruised and swollen. Marian herself was extremely unwell. She has been prescribed 18 different types of medication which she receives on a daily basis.
On the morning of the 17th of August Marian was told she was to have a lung wash and endoscopy. Marian has been treated for TB in the past and at present is receiving treatment for pneumonia. A prison officer entered the ward and told Marian she had instructions that again handcuffs were to be used during the move to the operating theatre. Marian asked that a doctor look at her wrists. The trainee doctor noted that her wrists were bruised and swollen and contacted a senior doctor who spoke to the hospital's legal representative. It was made very clear that Marian was not to be cuffed and this message was conveyed by the legal representative directly to a doctor who said he would get the directive to the prison officers.
A letter had been issued by a female governor in Hydebank Prison on the 22nd of June when Marian was transferred to hospital. This letter contained very detailed instructions which the prison staff had to follow. The prison staff involved in the cuffing on both days are not responsible for these actions. They were told by the prison to follow the instructions in the letter. A doctor informed the family that while Marian had already been taken to the theatre cuffed before a doctor’s instructions were followed, the directive should have been passed on to prison officers during Marian's operation which would have negated cuffing on her return to the secure hospital unit. The prison officers did not receive the instruction and were therefore bound to adhere to the letter of 22nd of June signed by the female Governor.
During Marian's operation a prison officer remained in the theatre. The consultant asked that the officer leave and go to the other side of the door. She told him that she had to follow the instructions set out by the female Hydebank governor. This meant that Marian was never to be out of her sight. Before the operation Marian told the consultant that she had endured sustained force-feeding in the past and was deeply traumatised by the experience. She asked that this be taken into account before he commenced the operation. The prison officer was present throughout this intimate discussion and during the operation. Marian was anaesthetised and when the operation completed handcuffed and returned again by ambulance to the secure hospital unit.
I have seen history repeat itself. In 1981 I went to see Dolours Price who was very seriously ill and was taken from Armagh Prison to the security wing of Musgrave Park Hospital Belfast, a wing that was under armed guard. She was brought down to see me in a wheelchair. She looked like a skeleton. She was handcuffed to the wheelchair.
Weeks ago, following Marian’s very serous deterioration in health – she has been in hospital for the last four months - Peter Corrigan her lawyer sent the Parole Commissioners a legal submission, medical reports, a submissions from Cardinal Seán Brady, human rights organizations, cross community individuals and myself calling for an urgent meeting on her case. They have also received serious medical reports from United Nations doctors. However, they have not as yet given a date. Her lawyer is in constant touch.
Marian is kept under security watch in Windsor House of the City Hospital, three prison officers guarding her 24 hours a day. At first she was kept in a small very confined room, almost like a prison cell. Then transferred to a bigger room were conditions were much better. I saw her there on a visit to her with her sister Clare and her brother Damian. I was shocked by her pallor. She has been brought back to the small very confined room but again transferred to the larger room where she is now.
That brings me to the corruption of law. We had internment in the North in every decade of the Stormont monolithic unionist government. Even after internment was formally ended in 1975 – a substitute was found – doubling sentences and imposing charges so that innocent people were held in jail for a year and a half before they were found innocent at their trial. Is the British Government not aware that it was found guilty of torture by the European Commission on Human Rights and guilty of ill-treatment by the European Court of Human Rights – their injustice is recorded in legal text books - is there now no sense of guilt and reform?
During the 30 years conflict Diplock Courts were not acceptable by people seeking truth and justice. And present traces of its workings in the Justice and Security (NI) Act 2007 in non-jury courts with their aura of injustice, are not acceptable. The rule of law in N. Ireland was corrupted by the use of illegal methods of interrogation and by the official efforts to cover up the use of these methods. The end can never justify the means. Justice not expediency is always the principle. Justice, freedom and truth are helped by jury courts. Confidence in the protection of the law is vital to a free society. To retain non-jury courts for certain individuals leads to selectivity and the danger of prejudice. If this is seen in prosecution and preferring of charges then confidence in the courts is undermined. It casts doubts on the objectivity of law officers of the Crown and the police. Law officers depend on security forces (‘intelligence’) for information about crimes committed by private individuals thought to be members or former members of prescribed organizations, and are therefore limited by the quality of their sources of information. Selectivity at stages of the application of the law disturbs peace and justice. During the conflict Catholics/nationalists felt they were denied civil rights and legal justice. This led to alienation. Any measure that indicates retention of selectivity casts doubts on the practice of justice.
Strong feeling, even distress, and of course agony within her family and close friends, are sweeping North and South. Following the meeting in Derry on 17 February when over 200 attended, a great meeting was held in Conway Mill, Belfast. Over 500 were present. All felt the pain of Marian and her family and were angry that the use of the law as a weapon in the arsenal of the Government was now policy once again.
There was a meeting in Teach na bPiarsach in Pearse Street, Dublin, on Sunday 25 March. More than 200 people attended – regretfully some people could not get in because of the crowd and had to depart. But again on 6 May another great meeting was held in Teach na nPiarsach. Over 700 attended the Derry procession from the Bogside to the Guildhall on 22 April. A moving service was held in St Oliver Plunkett’ church in Lenadoon Belfast on the evening of 3 April setting Marian’s situation in the context of suffering humanity and the compassion of Christ. A huge crowd attended the protest march against her internment in Belfast on 27 May. A great crowd also attended the public March with speeches in Dublin on 10 June.
Another march was held in Dublin on 3 November. There have been meetings in Tyrone – in Coalisland, 4 July, and a march from Coalisland to Dungannon on 26 August concerning her on the anniversary of the First Civil Rights march in the North. As I said there is a very active campaign going on in the USA with thousands signing petitions and sending them to the Secretary of State, Belfast. Contacts have been made in the Congress. A strong editorial headed ‘Internment again’ appeared in The Irish Catholic. It said, ‘One of hallmarks of a just society is due process and the right of those suspected of crime to have the evidence (if there is any) set before a legitimately convened court’.
Brigadier Frank Kitson, in Belfast in 1971 said:
An excellent example concerns the way in which the law should work. Broadly speaking there are two possible alternatives, the first one being that the law should be used as just another weapon in the government’s arsenal, and in that case it becomes little more than a propaganda cover for the disposal of unwanted members of the public. For this to happen efficiently, the activities of the legal system have to be tied into the war effort in as discreet a way as possible which, in effect, means that the member of the government responsible for the law, either sits in the supreme council or takes his orders from the head of the administration. The other alternative is that the laws should remain impartial and administer the laws of the country without any direction from the government.
The first course is still being followed.