Jailed republican Price in legal limbo despite her illness


Legitimate questions hang over the detention of Marian Price, but she still faces prosecution in relation to the murder of two British soldiers

ALMOST 40 years on and the Price sisters are in the news again, Dolours Price has been caught up in the row over the Boston Tapes, and Marian Price is, more pressingly, the subject of protests and calls for her release amid concern about her physical and mental health.

Marian Price (58) was sent back to prison in May last year by Northern Secretary Owen Paterson. He revoked the licence under which she had been released in 1980, weighing 5st 10lb and suffering tuberculosis and anorexia nervosa, after serving seven years in prison for the 1973 Old Bailey bombings.

Dolours Price is an unwilling protagonist in the legal saga over her purportedly telling the Boston Tapes project she was implicated in the murder of mother of 10 Jean McConville when acting for her then alleged IRA commander Gerry Adams – a charge the Sinn Féin president denies.

She will make no comment on the legal wrangle – “I have put that away to the back of my head; it will run and run, and let it run, and I will not lose a night’s sleep over it” – but instead she tells of how she is “completely distraught” with anxiety for the wellbeing of her sister, who is younger by three years.

In 1973 the two sisters, who remain steadfastly opposed to the present political dispensation, believing it to be a republican sell- out, were part of the IRA unit that planted four car bombs outside the Old Bailey court in central London, two of which were defused and two of which exploded, leaving 200 injured and one man dead from a heart attack.

Their arrest, imprisonment and hunger strike lasting more than 200 days, which involved force- feeding, was a dominant news issue at the time and ultimately resulted in the sisters and the other IRA unit members being repatriated to prison in Northern Ireland.

The current Free Marian Price campaign has been gathering steam in recent weeks.

This week several priests, politicians, artists and academics wrote to The Irish Times urging her release on humanitarian grounds, contending she was a “victim of psychological torture and internment without trial”.

There is little or no doubt that Price is seriously ill.

On independent medical recommendation, she was transferred from Maghaberry Prison near Lisburn to Hydebank Prison in Belfast in February and then last month to a Belfast hospital, under guard and still in custody.

This month, United Nations doctors who examined her reported she was “unable to comprehend the allegations being made against her to sufficient degree to inform her defence” and that “she would be unable to follow the evidence in her own hearing as she lacks the ability to attend to detailed evidence”.

There are legitimate human rights questions over the detention of Ms Price, while equally it must be pointed out that she is facing prosecution in relation to an alleged offence of providing property for the purposes of terrorism. She is accused of purchasing a mobile phone for a dissident paramilitary who used it to make a claim to the media that the Real IRA killed the soldiers Patrick Azimkar and Mark Quinsey at Massereene in Antrim in March 2009. Her defence, it is understood, is that she did not know how it would be allegedly used.

She is also likely to face fresh charges relating to her appearance at a dissident republican rally in Derry on Easter Monday 2011 when she held up a statement from which a masked dissident read, warning of further attacks on PSNI officers.

This was a few weeks after the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh. She previously argued she did not know what was in the statement.

Paterson denies the charge levelled against him by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and others that he has effectively interned her without trial, his office insisting “due process” has and is being followed.

Similar “internment” arguments are being made about another former IRA prisoner, Martin Corey, who has also had his release licence revoked.

Price and her solicitors argue that she was released by way of British royal pardon and therefore Paterson could not override that pardon.

A spokeswoman for Paterson said the North’s parole commissioners concluded at the end of a legal hearing that the royal pardon did not apply to the life sentence element of her Old Bailey conviction, that the licence was properly revoked and that there was “contemporaneous material” which supported this view – a point her solicitor Peter Corrigan disputes.

Dolours Price, who was released in 1981, questions how she and other IRA prisoners released around that period were freed by royal pardon, but her sister was not.

The issue is complicated by the fact the official copy of the pardon is lost or shredded, which in itself has raised suspicions of dirty dealings among her supporters.

Paterson’s spokeswoman said it was the commissioners who decided Price posed a risk to the public, adding the commissioners were now considering further evidence to decide whether she should “remain in custody or be released”.

In Dublin on Thursday, Paterson repeated he would not “override carefully established legal arrangements” which in this instance are the work of the parole commissioners.

Which is where the matter rests at the moment – a sort of catch 22 legal limbo. For the case to be heard, Price must appear before the commissioners, but Corrigan says that, as testified by various doctors, she isn’t capable of so doing. And round and round it goes.

Corrigan acknowledges there are legal complexities but says that regardless of his protestations, Paterson as Northern Secretary has the power to facilitate Price being granted bail.

This, he adds, would free her from custody and allow her to begin the process of health recovery, when she might be in a position to coherently deal with any future legal cases against her.

Aside from the personal humanitarian element to the case, it must be said that for anything to happen Price would test the current political solidity.

In the meantime, Dolours Price says she is worried and “heartbroken” about her sister’s situation.

“We formed bonds in English prisons and in Irish prison that can never be broken. I hope and trust she will find the strength and courage to keep on going.”

“In 1973 the two sisters, who remain steadfastly opposed to the present political dispensation, believing it to be a republican sell-out, were part of the IRA unit that planted four car bombs outside the Old Bailey court in central London