Hundreds attend Belfast public meeting to demand the release of Marian Price


Hundreds of people packed Conway Mill in West Belfast last Thursday in one of the largest gatherings in years to mark International Women’s Day against the continuing internment of Marion Price who has been held captive by the British state because of her political beliefs.

In April last year her license was revoked by the Secretary of State Owen Patterson for ‘holding up a piece of paper’ for a masked member of the RIRA reading out a statement at an Easter Commemoration in Derry last year. Unlike other political prisoners in the North, she has had no trial, no sentence, no release date and not even a date when the Parole Commission will review her case. Unless the courts intervene, she will only be released by order of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson.

The justification given was that the threat that she poses has “significantly increased” and that she had been encouraging support for an illegal organisation based on her involvement in the commemoration. Since than she has faced further charges in relation to her alleged involvement in the Massareene barracks attack in 2009. Last November, Marian was moved from Hydebank young offenders to the all male Maghaberry prison where she remains in solidarity confinement which is tantamount to torture and inhuman treatment.

Twice she has been arrested and brought before a non-jury Diplock Court. Twice a judge has ordered that she be released on bail. Each time Owen Paterson overruled the judge and ordered her back to prison. He said that he was revoking her license.

But Marian Price was not actually on license. Convicted of bombings in Britain, she received a full royal pardon (the “Royal Prerogative of Mercy”) when she was freed in 1980 because she appeared to be on the brink of death from severe anorexia nervosa. The anorexia was the result of being force fed more than 300 times when she was on hunger strike in a British prison.

The Northern Ireland Office now says the pardon “cannot be located” – that it has either been lost or shredded. Price’s solicitor Peter Corrigan recently told a crowded meeting in Belfast’s Conway Mill that this is the only time in the entire history of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy that a pardon has gone missing. Mgr. Raymond Murray, the veteran human rights campaigner, said simply “You can draw your own conclusions.”

Nevertheless, the Parole Commission sided with the Northern Ireland Office and refused to release Marian Price. Her lawyers will be appealing to the High Court. Marian Price is being held in conditions designed to break her body and spirit. She has been in solitary confinement for more than 300 days although the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture says solitary confinement for more than 15 days amounts to torture.

She is locked in her cell 21 hours a day. There is a camera in the cell. She has been told it is switched off but there is no way to know if that is true. She has no privacy because prison staff is constantly going in and out of her cell. At night male prison officers open the peep hole and shine a light in her face so she can’t sleep. Marian has told relatives she feels like she is "in a zoo."The public meeting organised by an independent group of women listened to a range of speakers including human rights lawyer Peter Corrigan, Monsignor Raymond Murray and Bernadette McAliskey who outlined the legal and political nature of her incarceration representing a threat to us all regardless of whether you agree with her political views or not. Questions and comments from the floor covered a range of views from the silence of former comrades in the Sinn Fein leadership to the psychological damage than can occur after 15 days in isolation, to her health and well-being and what can be done.

It was also emphasised that those collectively responsible for her continuing imprisonment is the Stormont government including former comrades. Despite the devolution of policing and justice powers and promises by some constitutional parties that manners will be put on the PSNI, the reality is that little has changed for working class people with more the case of welcome the new boss-same as the old boss.

Throughout the world every day there are instances of trade unionists and active workers being assassinated, tortured, jailed and victimised for the work they do on behalf of the class. In many cases the repressive forces have been trained by the British establishment and source their arms from Britain. So no one should doubt the extent that the ruling class will go to in order to protect their rule.

The workers’ movement must oppose all state repression; any act of repression against an individual is really an attack on the whole of the working class and undermines the rights and conditions of all. Sooner or later it will be the workers’ movement itself that comes under attack, which why we must oppose the internment of Marian Price, Martin Corey and the continuing brutal treatment of republican prisoners in Maghaberry.

Bernadette McAliskey finished the meeting by reminding people that solidarity and support does not end tonight but must be built upon from letter writing, to protests and picket lines. The release of terminal ill prisoner Brenda Lillis last year following a popular campaign of pickets and a camp at the former site of Andersonstown Barracks provides a glimpse of what is possible if we unite in solidarity and direct action.

WORDS: Sean Matthews

Organise, Agitate, Educate! (2/3) from Spartacus on Vimeo.