Tonight the Pensive Quill features a Radio Free Eireann interview which was aired as a Patrick's Day Special on 17 March 2012. The interviewer was Sandy Boyer (SB) and his guest was Eamonn McCann (EM). The issue under discussion was the ongoing imprisonment of the republican Marian Price.
SB: And welcome back to Radio Free Eireann. This is our Saint Patrick's Day Special on WBAI 99.5 in New York. And we're going over to talk to Eamonn McCann in Doire (Derry) about Marian Price.
Marian could be spending the rest of her natural life in a British prison in Northern Ireland. Unlike other political prisoners in the North, Marian has not been convicted, she's not been tried, she doesn't have a prison sentence, she doesn't have a release date and she doesn't even have a date when her case is to be reviewed by the parole board. Eamonn, thanks for being with us.
(SB experiences some phone difficulties)
EM: Hello. Hello.
SB: Oh, Hello, Eamonn. We were just talking about Marian and the fact that she is in prison and could be for the rest of her natural life.
SB: No review, no release date, no trial. How does this come about?
EM: That's the bleak reality of the situation and one of the difficulties with the whole case is that we have very little information because there's very little information to be had. It's just as simple and as bleak as you have said.
The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, a British politician Owen Paterson, has announced that he has revoked a pardon given/granted to Marian way back in 1980 releasing her from a life sentence imposed for an IRA offence in 1973. So, she's out on a pardon in 1980 and Owen Paterson says: I'm now revoking that. Back to gaol! Serve out the remainder of your life sentence.
As we've talked about before, Sandy, Marian and her lawyer very vigorously contest Owen Paterson's authority to revoke her pardon. However, in practical terms, he has done it and his police have come along and lifted Marian and there she is in a prison cell on her own at the age of fifty-eight and in very poor health.
Neither logic nor humanity seems to apply in Marian's case; nor due process, nor any normal concept of legality and justice.
She's in prison because Owen Paterson has decided that the state might be safer with her out of the way. That's not a basis for imprisoning anybody or ought not to be a basis anywhere in the world. But it's where Marian is.
SB: We had her husband with us on the air last week and he was saying first of all, she had contracted tuberculosis when she was force-fed over three hundred times in a British gaol, she never fully recovered from that. In fact, she was supposed to get a check-up just before she was arrested. She can't open her hands because of her arthritis.
EM: Marian has had arthritis for quite some time as I understand. I'm not sure, medically, whether there's a connection between the effects of the force-feedings that she underwent back in 1973 and 1974, whether there's a connection with that and the arthritis which she has had since.
Many people who suffer from arthritis or know members of their family who are, they know that it can be a literally crippling disease. Her hand seizes up and it's extremely painful to move it and that limits her ability to look after herself in various ways. And she is constantly in pain.
So this is a pretty appalling situation.
I mean, it would be an appalling situation for somebody who was serving a determinate sentence having been convicted of a crime. But for someone to be in this situation, not convicted of any crime but ordered into prison by a politician and with, as you said at the outset, not only no release date but no date when she can apply for release or apply for a review of her prison conditions.
This is absolutely outrageous!
And that's why there is, I believe, a gathering concern about Marian's position, a concern which extends far beyond the ranks of those who might agree with her politically.
As you know Sandy, I wouldn't be of the same political mind certainly as Marian at all but I have got no difficulty being a hundred percent behind the demand that she should be released now without further adieu simply on the grounds of justice and because nobody should be in prison unless they've had a charge preferred against them and that charge tested and proven in court. None of that has happened with Marian Price.
SB: And before we talk more about that there's just the humanitarian grounds. You don't have to be a doctor, you don't have to be a physician, to know that if you're in that kind of ill health the last place you should be is in a prison cell.
EM: Absolutely, yep, yeah. Absolutely. And it's bound to have, and we don't want to become doom-mongers or gloom-mongers in relation to all this, but the effect on emotional health, mental health even, is bound to be, over time, that's bound to become a major concern. Now particularly when you're held in isolation.
Marian is in isolation because she stands by the old Irish Republican tradition of refusing to accept criminality: she's not a criminal, she's a political prisoner and therefore she won't be subjected to the usual regime applied to ordinary, so to speak, prisoners. That means that she's held on her own.
So when you take all that into account: the sheer injustice of it, the arbitrary nature of her imprisonment, the absence of a release date, the absence of a date when she can apply for release, the ill health that she has suffered, add all that together and this is absolutely appalling situation and really, there ought to be a lot more noise about it. There ought to be a lot more people involved in campaigning for Marian's release. I do think that's beginning to happen now.
SB: I want to get back to this pardon that mysteriously went missing. They were asked to produce it in court. They told the court it's either disappeared, maybe it was shredded. Does that happen often?
EM: (scoffs) I don't believe it's ever happened before and actually I don't believe it's happened here in this case, either.
When Owen Paterson ordered that Marian be put into prison she contested immediately. She said you can't do that; there was a pardon ... you simply can't overturn a pardon. Pardons are issued in the name of the Queen; that's the constitutional position sort of in Britain because you're detained, sort of, under the Queen's Laws or however it's put. So therefore, when you're pardoned, the pardon comes from the Queen, even though she may know nothing about it.
Owen Paterson insists that Marian wasn't pardoned that she simply was released on licence, the way people are by government officials and so forth when they've served a part of their time, that happens all over the world.
But he denies it's an actual pardon.
Now, when Marian's lawyers challenged Patterson and said Okay. Produce the document because we know that that document will show that it wasn't a licence that you had a right to revoke, it was a pardon which has got nothing to do with you. So produce it!
He came back some time later and said: Terribly sorry. The document that refers to this pardon has been lost or maybe it's been shredded. We had it in 2010, at some point in 2010. But Goodness me! It can't be found now.
Even despite what he called a widespread searching they couldn't locate this document.
This is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous!
I mean, and if they can't locate it ... it's very odd that Mr. Paterson said that it might have been lost or it might have been shredded. I mean, if it was shredded they would know it. None of it makes any sense at all.
My own belief is, and I don't think you have to be terribly cynical to come to this belief, is that the document is exactly as Marian says the document is and that Paterson, or someone closely associated with him, has destroyed the document in order to keep her in prison.
In other words, they not only are denying her due process that they are manipulating the situation in a thoroughly dishonest way. Now, I can't say for a fact that Owen Paterson personally has sanctioned all that or been involved in all that, but somebody has and he's speaking for them and speaking up for them!
SB: You know, it strikes me ... of course ... the Northern Ireland media is often a mystery to me, but they report this with a straight face. No one else believes it. I doubt that the reporters actually believe it themselves. But it's just reported ...
EM: Yes, that is remarkable. But then, perhaps it's not just a Northern Irish or an Irish thing. There are terribly troubling cases of people who are identified by the political establishment as representing a danger in some way and they're put away.
In the United States, of course we know, the various renditions that are happening and people being flown around to black sights and what's happened to Marian Price is something akin to that as she's been snatched and put into prison without any Judge or anybody being involved and we can see parallels elsewhere.
We are having in Doire this coming Wednesday, we'll have a vigil in the City Centre for both Marian and Hana al-Shalabi, the Palestinian woman, the thirty year old woman, who is on a hunger strike herself now ... I think this is the thirty-first day of it in an Israeli prison. She has been put in prison without any charge or trial, so the two cases are similar.
We're holding this joint vigil, if you'd like, next Wednesday precisely in order to make the link between these cases and to say that the struggle for justice is the same the whole world over and we have to get that message out.
And we have to ensure, that when people are campaigning for justice anywhere the world, they remember Marian Price, that they remember Hana al-Shalabi and all the other individuals.
These aren't abstract matters when we say we believe in due process, we believe in constitutional rights .
It's alright as an abstract concept but if these things are to be in any way meaningful, they must apply to particular cases and this case in point, Marian Price's case, cries out for urgent action!
SB: Interesting reference in light of solidarity today: it was the people who had The Queer Protest on Fifth Avenue at the Saint Patrick's Day Parade. They were the ones signing up people on postcards; send a postcard to Owen Paterson telling him to release Marian.
EM: I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised. I know some of the people, or used to know some of the people, involved in Irish gay and lesbian rights organizations in New York and I would absolutely expect that they would be the first, they would be to the fore, and standing up for Marian Price and indeed, I know that many of them would stand up for Hana al-Shalabi in an Israeli gaol as well.
When people become comfortable, when they begin to hob-nob and rub shoulders with establishment politicians rather than people of the class they came from. When they begin to rub those shoulders they sort of slough-off the old commitments that they had; that's in many cases, not all cases, but in many cases this happens.
People who are aggrieved themselves, who are themselves suffering injustice, like the gay and lesbian Irish community in New York, they are always going to be more likely to stand up for other victims of injustice than people who have a vested interest in the status quo whether that's in Northern Ireland or America or anywhere else.
SB: Actually, speaking of people who have bought into the status quo, and speaking of building a campaign, even though Marian wants nothing to do with Sinn Fein and refused to even meet with them, I find it very significant that they're coming out very strongly, making strong, I think, very good statements demanding her release. I have to say I think that's a testament to the strength of the sentiment.
EM: Absolutely. Absolutely. In fairness it should be said I don't challenge the bona fides of individual Sinn Fein members at all certainly when they call for Marian's release. I welcome it! There should be more of it.
I know that here in Doire the politician who has spoken out most loudly about it is a member of the SDLP. And the SDLP is the Social Democratic and Labour Party, the old party of John Hume, is at times, sneered and jeered at as being the conservative, old party. But Pat Ramsey of the SDLP has been a constant visitor to Marian and has been in and out of Owen Paterson's office, banging the table and been on platforms and on television and so forth. And whatever else one thinks about Pat's politics he deserves credit for that.
And the same is true for individual and prominent Sinn Fein people. I'm not being cynical at all when I go out immediately to say that. None of that may be happening if it wasn't for the fact that there is a swell of support at the grassroots level. The Sinn Fein people and SDLP people, like all politicians, will try to keep their ear to the ground and will be aware that there is a gathering feeling that they have to relate to, that they have to reflect. So that's a factor too, in the way that they've come out.
But I'm not trying to be cynical about this or to challenge their integrity. We need all the people that we can get. The support is spreading out, here in the North and elsewhere.
SB: First of all, yes, I agree with you. The only way you can build a campaign is to say: the only thing you have to agree to is that Marian should be free.
EM: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes.
SB: There was a very successful meeting last week in Belfast, in the Conway Mill, which is probably the largest venue in West Belfast, and you had a very successful meeting in Doire. Where does it go from here?
EM: As I say, we've a demonstration in Doire City Centre next Wednesday. It's intended to be the first of many both for Marian and Hana, Hana al-Shalabi, and I suppose we could express a hope that it doesn't have to be the first of many because the issues may be resolved. But if need be, then there'll be regular weekly demonstrations.
We're also trying to draw in, and there's some sort of work underway, trying to make this, as it should be, an issue for women.
Marian is held in isolation. She's the only woman political prison in Ireland, North or South, actually. There ought to be....you know, some of the problems we have to look into have to do with the fact that she's a woman, and she's a mother, she's a wife ... on International Women's Day, I guess a week ago or so, we launched a petition in Doire. We've already gotten a number of thousands of signatures, sort of making the point, sort of asking women everywhere to sign this, not only women ... anyone can sign, but to raise it in the context of women's rights.
There's also underway at the moment an attempt to get legal people, to get people who believe in due process, they might not be political at all, but who are lawyers, barristers and so forth, for them to take a stand as well. So it's an attempt to bring in those categories of people.
One of the reasons for having a demonstration both for Marian and Hana al-Shalabi next week is also, and again not cynically but in a realistic way, to try and bring in another constituency, if you'd like, to say this isn't just an Irish thing.
It isn't an issue that is appropriate only for Irish Nationalists to come out and demonstrate about; there are many other people in Ireland, like myself if I might say so. But also many people around the world who should ought to see this issue not in terms of where do I stand in relation to Irish politics and partition in Ireland and all that sort of stuff?
But where do I stand in relation to the broad struggle against oppression and for the rights of people before the law whether it's in Ireland, the United States, Palestine, Russia or wherever it is ... it's the need to internationalise it, intermesh Marian's case with that of other people around the world. I mean, all these are ways of looking at it.
But in the end the thing is just to keep on at it and to get as many people as possible to contact the Northern Ireland Office, to make sure that Owen Paterson is reminded every day when he gets into his office: (mocks) There's another so-many hundred protests about this Marian Price woman. There's more this week than it was last week and so forth. And the amount of public pressure in terms of a public demonstration and then there be that as well.
SB: And Eamonn, you've got to be honest. Marian's politics are not really popular. Marian is a really un-reconstructed Irish Republican. She believes, whether you agree with it or not, she believes that people have a right, I think she might have even said duty, to wage an armed struggle to get Britain out of Ireland once and for all. I think that must be scaring some people off.
EM: Well no doubt Marian's politics does scare people off and that's always the case. Almost by definition, people who are selected as victims of state repression tend to be people who would not be popular in respectable circles.
That was true in the 1970's, the 1960's, when the Provisional IRA people were on hunger strike, that was widely pointed out. Even in the early 70's, long before the hunger strike, when people were being tortured and confessions were being beaten out of them it, of course they tended to be people who were supporting the IRA's campaign of shooting and bombing. That made them very, very unpopular in some circles.
It meant that people who stood up for their rights were frequently accused of being complicit in shooting and bombing and we just had to handle that and stand firm.
And we did manage to stand firm in relation to those matters.
And eventually, over a period, we did manage to get the point across: that to support due process and justice for all is not to support the politics of those who are being denied due process and justice.
We have to make that distinction.
We've got a Motion, The Doire Trades Council has got a Motion down for the conference of The Northern Ireland Trade Unions. The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, delegates will meet, by coincidence, in Doire, in about what - four weeks time? Now we've got a Motion down calling upon the Trade Union Movement to support the call for Marian Price's release.
We are fairly confident that's going to go through. That it will become then, the official policy of The Trade Union Movement in the North. And of course, the Trade Union Movement is not Nationalist at all; it's organised on a very different basis.
I see that as an important step forward.
An important step in defeating precisely this argument: the why should we support her when we thoroughly disagree with the type of politics and actions which she apparently approves of?
These can be difficult arguments.
You know, Hana al-Shalabi, in an Israeli prison: she's a member of Islamic Jihad; a very, very unpopular group in many circles, to put it mildly.
But if we're serious about civil rights we have to be serious about civil rights for everybody. And not just civil rights for people who are respectable and unthreatening to The Establishment, (those) whose civil rights are rarely compromised or denied anyway.
So you're right that this can be a difficult argument but it's an argument that every generation has to have and which we are now having to have again.
SB: I think Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey put it very well in the meeting at the Conway Mill in Belfast. She said that Marian's case is a warning to anybody who speaks out, to anyone who dissents.
EM: You mean, are you asking me do people feel threatened?
SB: No. This is her point, Bernadette's point was: if they get away with this with Marian, it could happen....
EM: Of course, of course, of course, the old mantra: If they come for somebody else in the morning and I don't object, who's going to object if they come back for me at night? That's been true down through the generations all around the world.
In the first instance, when you stand up for justice and human rights you always find yourself standing up for justice and human rights for people of whom The Establishment disapproves and maybe of whom the vast majority of people disapprove.
But you can disapprove of people's beliefs, you can disapprove of people's actions and political associations and connections but at the same time, hold hard to the idea that everybody is entitled to due process.
Nobody should be put in prison simply on the say-so of a politician.
Because if we accept that principle then who's to defend us when we are put in prison?
We can hear some turn around and say: (mocks) Well, you're not the first! We do this to those extremists, the Marian Prices of this world. We put them in prison.
And that's the precedent. We have to make sure that these things don't become precedents. That we stand firm on the principles involved.
SB: We've been on with Eamonn McCann about the case of Marian Price. Eamonn, just before we let you go, this is really urgent and is something that I think that everybody needs to get involved with.
EM: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. As I say, and we don't want to be too scary about it or scare-monger about it, but it's an urgent situation because Marian's position, her condition is urgent, let's put it like that. It's been a couple of weeks now since I was in to visit her, but I know that I came out badly shaken and extremely worried about what the next few weeks were going to bring. And a few weeks have passed since then.
If we're going to do anything we have to do it now. So I would urge anybody listening, thinking about.... Well, should I become involved? Yep!
Either phone yourself or get in touch with people in Ireland from wherever you are and join in. Because we're going to need the coordinated struggle of a determined and urgent nature.
SB: One thing everybody can do right here is send an email to Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, at: patersono@parliament@uk. ( repeats address) demand that he release Marian Price immediately. We're going to go to music and then we have Carrie Twomey in the studio with us to talk about the Boston College case which we've been talking about for many years now.