As driving rains and threats of a Nor’easter kept most New Yorkers inside on a recent Sunday afternoon, close to one-hundred people filled Rocky Sullivan’s Pub in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
They came to unite against a revived internment policy in Ireland, and to stand in solidarity with the basic human rights and due process deserved by every citizen in a democracy.
The continued imprisonment of Marian Price for … well, no one knows what for because the British government hasn’t made that clear. For allegedly providing a mobile phone to people who were charged with killing two British soldiers, even though the accused in that case was found not guilty? For holding a piece of paper that held words critical of British rule in Ireland?
Most people are confused about the specific charges against Marian Price, because Secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson, has simply “revoked her license” (what we in the U.S. call parole).
Marian had served years in prison for her role in the IRA bombing of the Old Bailey in London in 1973. Her legal team insists that Marian, in fact, received the Royal Prerogative of Mercy (the “Queen’s Pardon”) in 1980, when she was freed, having suffered extreme physical and emotional debilitation from forced feeding and torture while on hunger strike in British jails in the 1970s.
British authorities now claim that the document specifying the conditions of Marian’s release in 1980 “cannot be located.” Their word on this – and their word that Marian is a threat – is supposed to be good enough.
Marian Price has been in solitary confinement in a British cell for nearly a year now, and faces the rest of her life in prison. Her case, though it spotlights some of the most blatant disregard for due process we’ve seen in a long time, and has caused immeasurable pain to her family and friends, is not simply about one person.
The capriciousness of British justice in a period, post-Good Friday Agreement, when this is all supposed to be in the past, sends a strong message that London can, and will, arbitrarily imprison anyone they are inclined to in the North.
Past is present, and future. Today it’s Marian Price, tomorrow it could be anyone under suspicion. There need be no proof. And this case is not simply about Irish people, or the British government. The same arbitrary, capricious and callous disregard for due process can be witnessed increasingly in our own country, and in democracies across the globe.
Just over a month ago, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey and Monsignor Raymond Murray spoke at a community meeting at Conway Mill in Belfast for Marian Price’s release.
A video of that meeting went viral in Irish America. We heard the call: “Organize, Agitate, Educate!” At that meeting community members spoke of their re-committal to a new civil and human rights movement against the British government’s ability to lock up anyone who speaks dissent in the alleged democracy.
The crowd included people who identify across the fragmented political parties and affiliations of the North, from SWP to SDLP. Their message was united in solidarity with Marian, and with all those imprisoned for who they are, rather than what they have done.
We wanted to do the same on our shores. Lifelong Irish American activist, Sandy Boyer, echoed the call. We expected about twenty people would show up. And as the Nor’easter approached, we figured we’d settle for ten and call it “a meeting” – a good start in preparation for bigger events in the future.
But Rocky Sullivan’s was filled. The crowd was as diverse as that at Conway Mill, with concerned Irish Americans from across the American and Irish political spectrums. Musicians Mary Courtney, Ray Collins, Peadar o hÍcí, and Chris Byrne entertained and inspired. Brehon Law Society delegate to the U.N., General Jim Cullen, a human rights lawyer, spoke passionately about the rights of Marian and of all of those improperly accused and incarcerated in violation of the basic tenets of a democracy.
Visual artist Conor McGrady gave a presentation on the role of the artist in the history of resistance to oppression in the North. All attendees signed post cards sent to Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson demanding the release of Marian Price.
Past is present … and future. And instead of having to hold a humble meeting, a “good start,” we all knew a solidarity movement was born. Or reborn.
Michael Patrick MacDonald is the author of “All Souls: A Family Story from Southie.”