Marian Price and the lost document
LAWYERS FOR Marian Price will next week launch judicial review proceedings in the High Court in Belfast asking for her release from prison on the grounds that Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson had no authority to order her detention.
Lawyers for Price, who is 57, say that she was pardoned rather than released on licence and that Paterson exceeded his authority in sending her back to prison. Paterson’s barristers contest this, but have told a panel of parole commissioners that “extensive searches” have failed to locate a copy of the document on which she was released.
Price was the only female detainee in the high-security Maghaberry prison in Co Antrim from May 11th last year, when she was charged with encouraging support for an illegal organisation. In recent days, she has been moved to the female wing of Hydebank prison. The charge arose from an incident during the 32-County Sovereignty Movement’s Easter commemoration in Derry city cemetery when she held up the script from which a masked man read the Real IRA’s “Easter Message”. The 32-County Sovereignty Movement, of which Price is secretary, is widely regarded as the political wing of the Real IRA.
Opposing bail, a detective sergeant told the court in Derry that the Real IRA statement had “threatened assassination against anyone from the nationalist or republican community who may be perceived by the IRA to be a traitor.” He agreed that Price had maintained during questioning that she had not known the content of the statement in advance. Granting bail, District Judge Barney McElholm said that there was no evidence that Price had had prior knowledge of the “vile and objectionable” nature of the statement, nor any record of absconding.
Price was rearrested as she left the dock on the basis of the order signed by Paterson the previous evening. In Maghaberry two months later, Price was further charged with “providing property for the purposes of terrorism” – allegedly supplying a mobile phone subsequently used in connection with the Real IRA gun attack in which two soldiers were killed outside Massereene barracks in Antrim in March 2009.
Price had been questioned for two days about this allegation in November 2009 and released without charge. Her lawyers say that there had been no change in circumstances in the interim and that no new evidence had emerged. They suggest that the charge was brought so as to pre-empt their planned challenge to the validity of the detention order. An attempt to have the Massereene-related charge ruled out as an abuse of process was postponed until the question of the extent of the pardon has been settled.
In a ruling on January 30th, the parole commissioners recounted that “Mrs McGlinchey (then Marian Price) was convicted on two charges of causing explosions and one charge of conspiring to cause an explosion. She was given two life sentences and a concurrent 20-year sentence on November 15th, 1973. She was released on licence on April 30th, 1980. Sometime shortly after her release, Mrs McGlinchey received a Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM), commonly referred to as a Royal Pardon. The issue is a simple one. Did the RPM cover only the 20-year determinate sentence or did it also cover the two life sentences? This should be a simple matter to determine by looking at the RPM. The difficulty is that the Secretary of State has informed the panel that the RPM cannot be located.”
Price’s lawyers have told the commissioners that, “It is difficult to fathom how, even exercising a modicum of care, this document was destroyed without someone, before destruction, ensuring that the original (or at least another copy) was still in existence. There is certainly a foundation for suggesting that this document may (and we can put it no higher) have been deliberately ‘buried’ given the embarrassment it might cause.”
The panel found that Paterson’s view was correct, that while the balance of Price’s 20-year sentence was remitted, her release from the life sentences was conditional on future behaviour. They cite a letter dated April 30th, 1980 – the day Price was released – from the private secretary to the Secretary of State to the private secretary to the Queen: “Her (McGlinchey’s) release involves release from the life sentence which means that she will always remain liable to be recalled to prison if her behaviour justifies this step.”
The commissioners supported this view with a quote from an Irish Times news story on May 1st, 1980: “The official announcement explained that the release was ‘on licence’, meaning that Price could be recalled at any time.” The panel goes on to note, however, that the Royal Prerogative of Mercy was issued “sometime very shortly after her release . . . although the precise date is uncertain.”
In an affidavit, Price says that, “In the wake of my release my solicitor Patrick Marrinan visited me to inform me that I had subsequently been granted the Royal Prerogative of Mercy which pardoned me of all of the 1973 convictions including the life sentence . . . He stated that I was as free as he was under the law [and] not on licence.”
MEMBERS OF PRICE’S family say that the “pardon” was negotiated with then-Northern Secretary William Whitelaw by Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich. In finding for the Secretary of State, the panel pointed out that “There is no contemporary material exhibited to the affidavit to confirm or support [her] claims concerning the scope of the RPM.”
Price’s lawyers say that it is unreasonable to expect her to have retained a legal document from 30 years ago and that the fact that she didn’t should not be used against her.
The judicial review proceedings are aimed at overturning the January 30th ruling. Lawyers for Price will ask the High Court to endorse instead their view that “the onus is on the detaining authority to prove the legality of the detention . . . Mrs McGlinchey should be discharged as the authorities cannot establish that she is, in fact and in law, on licence.” Price’s association with “dissident” republicans has deprived her of support from many who might in other circumstances have rallied against her detention on a minister’s say-so and the perceived lack of due process.
Little has been heard from civil libertarians or from women’s groups. Demonstrations have been tiny. There has been scant media coverage.
The bitterness of republican splits is seen in the fact that Price last month refused to meet a Sinn Féin delegation visiting the prison.Only a handful of SDLP members of the Assembly have taken up her case. Pat Ramsey of the SDLP, who saw Price in Maghaberry a number of times, says: “She is effectively in isolation – the only woman in a high-security male prison. Her health is bad and getting worse.”
Marian Price first came to public attention in 1973 when, aged 19, she, her sister Dolours and eight others were charged with being part of an IRA unit which planted four bombs in London. Sentenced to life, she, Dolours, Hugh Feeney and Gerry Kelly – now a Stormont minister – spent more than 200 days on hunger strike seeking political status. She was force-fed 167 times.
From one of the best-known republican families in Belfast – her father Albert had been in the IRA in the 1940s – she was active in the mainly-student People’s Democracy before becoming one of the first women admitted as a full member into the IRA. Released in the 1980s, she remained politically uninvolved until the 1990s when she emerged as one of the most vocal republican critics of the Sinn Féin “peace strategy”.
Revoking her licence last year, Northern Secretary Owen Paterson said that the threat which she posed had “significantly increased”.