Interview with Bernadette Devlin McAliskey
Interview with Bernadette Devlin McAliskey

Hugh Hamilton (HH) of WBAI Pacifica Radio interviews Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey (BDM) about the imprisonment of Marian Price


HH: Marian Price is a former Irish Republican militant who first gained international notoriety nearly forty years ago following her conviction in the 1973 bombing of London’s Old Bailey.

She was subsequently freed in 1980 when she was thought to be on the brink of death from severe anorexia nervosa and suffering multiple complications from hundreds of forced feedings while on hunger strike in prison.

But now, her supports say that Ms Price, who is also known by her married name, Marian McGlinchey, has been illegally imprisoned in northern Ireland for more than a year on the basis of secret evidence that neither she nor her lawyers have been allowed to see. They say she is a political prisoner effectively detained without trial, sentence or release date.

And unless the courts intervene she could spend the rest of her life in prison.

In fact just this past weekend the authorities issued a statement saying that she’s been transferred to hospital on the advice of psychiatrists but remains in custody.

Among those demanding justice for Marian Price and calling for her immediate release is the noted northern Ireland civil rights leader and former Member of Parliament Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey.

Ms McAliskey was herself imprisoned for her part in defending a Nationalist ghetto which was under attach northern Ireland police and she’s currently a leader in the campaign to free Marian Price. She joins us now. Good Afternoon, Ms McAliskey.

BDM: Hi. How are you?


HH: Very well, thank you and thank you very much for joining us. You’ve said of Marian Price that while she’s not the only political prisoner who’s being detained in this manner, her case is urgent and becoming critical. How so?

BDM: Marian is not the only person in prison at the minute in violation of due process.

And while that’s important, it’s important to set the context: following the peace process and the restoration of a democratic assembly in northern Ireland and the restoration of justice and policing to northern Ireland, all of these matters should be matters for due process of law and for the democratic process.

However, running along side that, we have still got essentially secret policing, secret intelligence run directly by the military intelligence, MI5 in London, through the UK Secretary of State, who is a British appointment, and seems to over-ride the democratic authority of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

And in Marian’s case the urgency relates directly to the impact of this unwarranted imprisonment on her physical and emotional health.

There are charges pending against her in that she is alleged to have supported a terrorist organisation by holding up a piece of paper at a rally in a rainstorm from which somebody else read.

And she was granted bail on that charge.

But the Secretary of State over-rode the court’s decision to grant bail and ordered her detention in prison.

And she’s now been in there for over a year.


HH: And what is her state of health right now? I’ve read that over the weekend - I think on Friday – she was moved to a hospital?

BDM: The present position is that as the result of her deteriorating health and the refusal of the the Parole Commissioner, the Secretary of State or Minister of Justice to exercise their authority and restore her bail, an urgent alert was made to the United Nations Rapporteur on Health.

It’s important to remember that when Marian was on hunger strike, unlike the later hunger strikes when people literally starved, Marian Price as a young woman was forced fed three times a day by having a tube pushed down a throat, she was forcibly restrained and liquid nutrition was poured down her throat three times a day.

If she brought that up the process was repeated.

And that experience is what led to her anorexia nervosa and eating disorders. And (it) also exacerbated a condition that had existed from childhood relating to tuberculosis and it’s impact on her emotional and mental health because of the trauma of the re-incarceration in that environment.

So the was a UN alert and the UN Rapporteur on Health, Anand Grover, who’s an Indian lawyer, an excellent, excellent defender of health, he sent a UN Inspector to the prison.

And the UN Inspector was denied access to the prison.

But had finally secured an inspection meeting for today.

On Friday, the Chief Medical Officer of the prison issued a press statement that Marian had been transferred to hospital.

But when the press statement was issued Marian was still in the prison.

And she was fundamentally being coerced to agree to go to a psychiatric unit outside of the prison despite a medical report that she was not suffering from any form of psychosis - she was suffering from mental and emotional trauma directly as a result of her environment.

And that medical report recommended that she be released to the care of her family to recover her health so that she could answer the charges.

So it looked on Friday that the authorities were attempting to remove her from the prison environment to head-off the UN inspection.

Or alternatively, attempting either to discredit Marian by putting her in a position where she would be refusing medical help.

The other alternative to the prison authorities was of course to use use The Mental Health Act which would allow them to place her in psychiatric care against her will.

But from their point of view, to have done that, to have used the Mental Health Act and forcibly placed her in a psychiatric unit, would then have undermined their capacity to charge her with any offence because she couldn’t be both mentally incapable and mentally capable of being charged.

So at present, Marian is in hospital we believe...but we are unsure, at this precise point, as to whether that’s a temporary assessment within the prison regime.

We’re waiting today to hear the outcome of the United Nations medical visit.

And we have at this point no idea whether that will lead to a recommendation again that she be released that will be acted upon or whether she will be returned to the prison environment.

It’s very important that people do campaign and do contact, particularly those Irish-American and other politicians in America, who played such a role in setting up the peace process, to recognise that these violations are still going on.

So, on the one hand we have Her Majesty the Queen feeling it’s safe enough for her to stand on Irish soil and be greeted by the leader of Sinn Féin in the new assembly but it’s not safe for Marian Price to stand on the same ground because she has no access to due process of law.


HH: We’re talking with the noted northern Ireland civil rights leader and former Member of Parliament, Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey.

We’re discussing the case of Marian Price who her supporters say has been illegally imprisoned in northern Ireland as a political prisoner for more than a year on the basis of secret evidence that neither she nor her lawyers have been allowed to see.

There is growing international campaign, including here in the United States. In fact, on Wednesday there’s going to be an evening in solidarity with Marian Price here in New York at O’Lunney’s - I’ll give you more information about that a little later on in the programme.

But if you have questions about Marian Price or if you’ve got questions for Bernadette McAliskey will take them at 212-209-2900. (repeats number)

Ms McAliskey, the question arises, particularly for those people who might not be very familiar with the situation in Ireland and in northern Ireland. The question arises...Why is this issue important?

I’ve seen you as quoted as saying that: “Ms Price’s case reflects the increasing powerlessness of global organisations, including the United Nations, to defend human rights.”

I’d like you to expand on that and explain why that is relevant to this case.

BDM: Hugh, I’m losing your voice intermittently.


HH: I was just asking, you’re quoted as saying that - The Marian Price case: “It reflects the increasing powerlessness of global organisations, including the UN” and I’d like you to explain what you mean by that.

BDM: Yes. I think what is very important for people to recognise that what is happening to Marian is not an isolated case.

While it’s happening here in northern Ireland and we have had to call upon the UN Rapporteur for Health to exercise his authority to examine it, the fundamental disrespect that the prison authorities here treat that, as if to say:” “what business is it of his?” and try to avoid their responsibilities is, although in a very small and certainly less traumatic than for example what is happening in Syria what is happening in Palestine, what happened in Egypt, what happened in Iraq, what goes on throughout the world is not only in unstable, if you’d like, political societies or clear dictatorships, but the confidence and the arrogance with which many of the western powers, who created the UN in the middle of the twentieth century, and actually undermine that organisation in both its protection of the UN Charter on Human Rights, on it’s collective role for peace keeping, for democracy, for compliance with UN resolutions...

I think Marian’s case is symptomatic of those things we see every day: the impunity with which Israel flouts UN resolutions in regard to Palestine, the manner in which Syrians are now just massacring their own people, and the fact that Guantanamo Bay, despite the promises of Obama, is still there. That we still haven’t had the truth on renditions...

That people can still be imprisoned without due process and that many countries, particularly in the very powerful western alliances, feel that UN resolutions and UN protections are for protecting them from their enemies but not people from powerful states.

And that’s what I was saying. That Marian’s case is not just something peculiar to the northern Ireland situation.

The increasing confidence with which fundamental human rights and due process and protections are being ignored - I think is frightening.


HH: We’re talking with the noted northern Ireland civil right leader and former Member of Parliament Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey. We’re discussing the case of Marian Price who her supporters say has been illegally imprisoned in northern Ireland for more than a year on the basis secret evidence that neither she nor her lawyers have been allowed to see.

They say that she is a political prisoner effectively being detained without trial, sentence or release date and without the intervention of the courts could end up spending the rest of her life in prison.

There’s been some discussion and debate on this question of whether Ms Price was out on parole as we say in the United States or licence as you say in northern Ireland.

There was an argument that said she wasn’t out on parole at all but had in fact been granted a full pardon, The Royal Prerogative of Mercy, when she was released from prison in 1980.

Are you in a position to clarify exactly which of those two situations...

BDM: Yes. There are two clear positions on that and there’s a very clear legal position on it.

Marian Price was released on a royal pardon.

Now what the Secretary of State claimed when he imprisoned her was that she had been imprisoned on two separate charges and that she got royal pardon on one but was released on parole on the other.

Now the likelihood of that is very small. That you would actually get out on a pardon... you know, half of you would be on pardon and the other half would be on parole... since it’s only one person.

But the law is perfectly clear and there’s a lot of British case law to substantiate that. The law is perfectly clear:

that if the information and advice provided to Marian Price at the time of her release was such as to give her a reasonable belief, that is to say the belief that any reasonable person would hold, that she had been released on royal pardon then the law must accept she was released on royal pardon.

And that’s where the legal battle is.

So that there is a precedent in UK and European law.

If she believed at the time of her release and ever since that it was a pardon, then she had a legitimate expectation that that’s what it was.

Now the matter could be readily resolved if the document of release and pardon or parole was produced.

But when the northern Ireland Secretary of State was asked to produced it he said it had been mislaid. It had been lost.

He claims it was lost in the period after which she was sent to prison.

And it also appears that in the history of the British state, Marian Price’s pardon, that is to say the physical document signed by Her Majesty, is the only one such document to ever have disappeared.

And you have to really ask yourself questions about that.


HH: The question arises: Why is this happening to Marian Price now?

BDM: I think it’s happening for a number of reasons.

There are parts of it have very, for me, have resonance for the arrest of my own daughter and the context in which that happened at the beginning of the peace process. I think the normalisation and the peace process here has reached a position where the voices of Republican dissidents have, according to the state, to be silenced.

There are many, many, particularly, in the present economic climate, there are many poorer people, particularly the youth who have not had any social, political or economic benefits from the peace.

There are people of course who have had significant benefits.

And overall there is an absence of war. There is political stability. There has been economic development.

But large sections of the most impoverished people have not seen any economic or social benefits from the peace.

And it’s amongst those young people, many of whom suffer from trans-generational trauma of war, and many who fundamentally disagree with the politics of their former political leaders.

That dissidence has steadily grown - fueled by the lack of economic and social opportunity, fueled by the lack of any understanding of that group of disaffected people or lack of any opportunity for them to articulate what their grievances are.

So as the dissidence has grown, the repression has grown and the numbers of people in prisons have grown.

And then with that we begin to see again the development of a prisoner support constituency.

And I think the government has decided, which is fairly traditional here as well as elsewhere, to use repression as a means of stifling discontent and dissent.

And Marian Price is therefore identifiable as a kind of flexing of the government’s muscle - that they’re not afraid to take on a woman - they’re not afraid to take on a Republican of long standing.

And the irony of course is: that the young man who went to London on the same bombing expedition with Marian Price is now a senior member in the government.


HH: When this case was brought to my attention by my colleague, Sandy Boyer, and I asked him for some additional information, I was rather surprised by the volume of information that is out there and which had not yet come to my attention.

And I’m wondering whether, in your estimation, the case of Marian Price is resonating as extensively as it should within the Irish-American community. The...

BDM: No! I think there are two things happening there, Hugh.

The first is: the degree of co-option, which to me is sad.

The degree of co-option and, in my understanding of the word, corruption of people’s principles that have come with their participation now in the administration of government.

It is always harder to say that things are not going well -always harder to say things are wrong when you have a stake in the government as opposed to when you have no stake in that class.

And Irish-Americans were very influential in helping to develop peaceful structures here, in helping to bring about political stability, but they have a stake in that stability so they now have a stake in the suppression of information.

They now have a stake in that stability so they now have a stake in denying the imperfections.

And I think that makes life very, very difficult then for principled opposition for highlighting these issues and it makes it all the more important for people whose principles are justice - regardless of its nationality. Whose demand is for peace - regardless of its geographic location - to stand up for the principles of due process and of human rights.


HH: So what’s next in the international campaign for Marian Price?

BDM: There are a number of groups supporting Marian locally.

There’s a Free Marian website which people can get to if you just go on... Marian Price... if you google Marian Price ...Free Marian... you’ll get that website. I think it’s

The prison crises group of which I am a member is drawing the international parallels and seeking solidarity with other human rights organisations fighting against unjust imprisonment in other places. So we’re building that. We have produced a pamphlet. There are a number of local rallies.

We are building in the United Kingdom; I’ve just spoken in Glasgow.

Sandy Boyer, as he has done for as long as I have known him - forty years - championed human rights in Ireland, continues to build in the United States and we are building across Europe as well.

It is a long, slow process that sounds like we’re doing great things.

It’s a slow process because many of those we would have relied on in the past are now in denial because of their stake in the current administration.

But we continue to highlight it. We continue to build. We continue to draw the levels of solidarity.

And her very good legal team continues to challenge in the court.

So we will await the outcome of the UN visit. We hope to have a judicial review of the Parole Commission’s latest decision.

And we just keep battling on until we have her released.

The sadness is, that all that Marian Price is asking for, all she is asking for, is that she be granted the bail that she has repeatedly been given in the court.

The original charge against her has in fact been dismissed by the court because of the violation of not bringing the case to trial for over a year.

A new charge has been instigated for which no evidence has been produced - that’s the one about the secret MI5 evidence. But she was granted bail on that charge as well.

And she is demanding only so that she be released from prison and allowed to recover her health at home so that she defend herself against these charges.

She is not asking to be released from prison and not charged with anything simply on the grounds that she’s is ill.

The position is that she has been charged without evidence. She has been denied bail.

The incarceration in prison, for the greater part in solitary confinement, has re-traumatised her from the early experience and she asks only for her right to be released as the court has ordered so that she can go home, regain her health and answer the charges against her.


HH: We’ve been talking with the noted northern Ireland civil rights leader and former Member of Parliament Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey.

Ms McAliskey, thank you very much for elucidating this issue for us on the case of Marian Price. We will of course keep our listeners informed. I’ll be announcing an event this weekend...

BDM: Might I say thank you again to WBAI who for many years have helped tell the truth and defend democracy across the USA. I don’t know where we would be without you.


HH: Thank you very much indeed, Ms McAliskey.

(Interview ends)

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