By Anthony McIntyre (for the Pensive Quill)
The ongoing detention of the republican activist Marian Price two months after her arrest raises serious concerns about how life sentence licenses are being used as a weapon of political policing.
Price was detained some days after being filmed holding a statement that was read out by a masked man at a republican Easter commemoration in Derry. The masked figure made threats to the PSNI and others in the course of his statement to the crowd. Price was subsequently charged with providing support for an illegal organisation.
Price’s reasons for performing some sort of auxiliary role during this Easter event will presumably be given in full when her case comes to trial. However, that is secondary to the fact that on the charge of providing support to an illegal body she was granted bail and should therefore be at home with her family and not locked up in Maghaberry. The charge against her was not considered all that serious otherwise bail would not have been granted so easily and so early.
That her license was immediately revoked means she is now serving time for activity carried out while a member of the Provisional IRA in 1973. She is not serving time for anything else, not for holding statements read out by others, not for anything. Her detention dovetails with the British practice of manufacturing categories of republicans: approved and non-approved. Those in the ‘approved’ category, like Gerry Kelly, are allowed into the US despite serving alongside Marian Price in the same IRA team that bombed London. A person’s republican past, as was made clear in the trial of Gerry McGeough, is not now a clean slate but a suspended summons to be issued when the British state’s nose is put out of joint.
The sole female prisoner in an otherwise exclusively male Maghaberry, it would seem the decision to hold her there rather than at Hydebank Wood is an attempt by the British government to lend amplification to the security threat supposedly posed by this woman. The British Secretary of State Owen Patterson began pumping up the volume when he said upon revoking her license that Price posed a threat which had ‘significantly increased.’ Not one shred of evidence has been forthcoming on this matter.
There is no case that can be made against Marian Price that would justify the imposition of a life sentence. Like the internees of the 1970s she is being held hostage to the good behaviour of physical force republicans currently campaigning against British rule. There has been no trial, no examination of the evidence in open court or an opportunity for Price to legally defend herself. Quite arbitrarily the British Secretary of State has signed away her freedom on the basis of some secret information provided by a British police officer. Given the emaciated reliability of that over the past four decades it is a sore point for many on the receiving end of British whispers.
Other former republican prisoners who served life sentences and who were subsequently released on license are now back in prison having had their licenses revoked. It is significant that neither Martin Corey nor Brendan Lillis are being held on any grounds other than PSNI whispers. They are currently, like Price, in prison for Provisional IRA activity dating back to the 1970s; a warning to others that they too can be recalled at any time. What guarantee do we have that a former lifer who simply refuses to become an informer for the PSNI or MI5 will not have their license revoked?
The detention of Marian Price is indefensible. Old policing methods are being used in what is supposed to be a new dispensation. The very forces the British government hope to overcome by revoking licenses are merely having their suspicions reinforced that the British cry foul while playing dirty. Much the same as they always did. Rather than persuade their republican opponents that dirty means should be out of bounds, the British actions merely incite them to carry such means onto the field of play.
Nor are such republicans likely to be enticed by dirty tactics towards any strategy that remotely resembles Sinn Fein’s, which is what the British want them to embrace. They will, with no shortage of justification, feel that for all its huffing and puffing Sinn Fein has not blown down any houses of repression but rather is warmly ensconced inside them rubbing its hands at the fire having burned its former comrades in the flames.