The campaign for the release of Marian Price has taken a dramatic turn after a judge dismissed charges against her and three other republicans. Despite the decision, British officials have said the interned former spokesperson for the 32 County Sovereignty Committee will remain behind bars.
Ms Price and three local men were arrested and bailed following an Easter commemoration in Derry last year. At that event, Ms Price held a piece of paper as a masked member of the Real IRA read out the organisation’s Easter statement. Hours after her arrest, British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson issued an order for Price’s indefinite detention, claiming she posed an “increasing threat”.
On Thursday, Ms Price was too ill to attend the court to hear that he had been cleared of the charges. The former hunger striker, who in 1974 was force-fed by prison authorities for 167 days, was also unable to even take part in a video link to the court.
Her internment had devastated her mental health, according to her barrister, who said his client was suffering from severe depression and would not be fit to attend court for some time.
Derry men Paddy McDaid, Frank Quigley and Marvin Canning, had also been charged in connection with managing and taking part in a meeting in support of an illegal organisation on April 25 last year. The three men have now been cleared and their strict bail conditions have been lifted.
The judge said but the fact that there were no evidence of any kind presented against the four was “concerning” to him.
He said everyone was entitled to a fair trial within a reasonable period of time and as there was “no evidence” before him he was not returning the four for trial.
Speaking afterwards, Paddy McDaid condemned the judicial system. He said the men had been held under “virtual house arrest” since appearing in court.
“We were prohibited from engaging in any sort of political activity, our family life was disrupted, we had a curfew, we were not allowed to leave the city and we had to surrender our passports,” he said.
A lawyer for Ms Price said that a new legal bid was being prepared to free her. Kevin Winters claimed the case against her over the Derry commemoration was “a central plank” in the decision to revoke her life release licence.
“One year later we are told today that the charge has been withdrawn,” he said.
“This raises serious doubts on the credibility of the reasons to revoke her licence, and we intend to revisit this through the courts.”
He said the timing was also significant given Marian’s deteriorating health.
‘NO THREAT TO ANYONE’
SDLP assembly member Pat Ramsey also said that as the Derry case was the “trigger” for Ms Price to be sent back to prison, she should now be released from Hydebank Wood detention centre to a hospital for treatment.
“We believe that Marian Price is being held unjustifiably,” he said. “It is clear she is both physically and mentally unwell.
“The woman is almost 60 years old and is of no threat to anyone.”
The Prison Crisis Group called on “all who believe in the most basic tenets of justice to redouble their efforts” to win her release.
“We will redouble our efforts to spread knowledge of Marian’s case. Many of us had hoped that by now there would be no need by for prison campaigns of this sort,” said spokesperson Jim Doherty.
Sinn Féin assembly member Jennifer McCann said the “continuing imprisonment of Marian Price is unacceptable “.
“Yet again Marian Price was deemed too unwell to appear in court,” she said.
“It is obvious she is a threat to no-one and continuing to keep her in prison is wrong.”
Protests have continued across Ireland in support of the former prisoners’ welfare campaigner. On May Day, upwards of 70 Dublin republicans assembled at the Spire on O’Connell Street to highlight her plight.
Hundreds of leaflets highlighting the case were distributed amongst May Day marchers and the general public. Speaking after the picket, eirigi Councillor Louise Minihan paid tribute to those who turned out despite the inclement weather.
“Marian has been held in a British Jail in Ireland now for almost twelve months, nine of which were spent in complete isolation in an all male prison,” she said.
“Despite being transferred to Hydebank, Marian remains in complete isolation. This is a gross violation of Marian’s human rights. She is held in jail on the whim of a British Secretary of State, and should be immediately released.”