Jailing of Irish writer and activist


Sir, – Margaretta D’Arcy, aged 79 and seriously ill, has been jailed for refusing to promise she will not again protest against the use of Shannon Airport by foreign soldiers in transit to and from a war zone. The history of successive Irish governments in facilitating these transits teaches us that her protest in the past was ineffective, in practical if not in moral terms, and that any likely protest she may make in the future is unlikely to succeed in actively impeding this activity. It cannot be imagined, therefore, she is or will be in a position to cause material danger to anyone.

Nevertheless, she hopes, if her health permits, she may yet be in a position to make her heartfelt moral protest again. In asking her to undertake not to do so, the court in effect asked her to stifle her personal moral outrage, to deny herself the expression of her examined and considered conscience. The State will attempt to justify her imprisonment on the cold, technical grounds that she refused to give an undertaking required by the court. I am appalled that the court required this undertaking in the first place, and sickened that the ordinary human discretion which justice requires of the law was not subsequently exercised in her case. As the decision to imprison Ms D’Arcy was taken by organs of the State, it is not possible to view her incarceration as other than a political act.

All of which said, it is also the case that Ms D’Arcy is one of a growing number of senior citizens being imprisoned for offences technical in nature (such as failing to purchase a TV licence) which nevertheless can hardly be considered, by a reasonable person, serious enough to warrant the severity of imprisonment.

The Prison Service has the discretion to release Ms D’Arcy and many other senior citizens on a number of grounds, human compassion being one, common sense another.

The service should exercise the available power of discretion immediately, but I think it unlikely it will feel confident in doing so without a directive from the Minister for Justice. Alan Shatter, a lawyer himself and a servant of our Republic, should be keenly aware of the humane distinction between law and justice. I look forward to an immediate practical demonstration that he does, in fact, understand and value this vital distinction. – Yours, etc,


Moyclare Park, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Keep Margaretta D’Arcy in jail and her indomitable spirit before the public to remind us of the price demanded from all those awkward witnesses for social justice and human rights. – Yours, etc,


Kilcolgan, Co Galway.

A chara,   – As Irish artists we are deeply disturbed and outraged at the jailing of artist Margaretta D’Arcy for protesting against the use of Shannon Airport by US warplanes. This grossly inappropriate and shameful treatment of a 79-year-old woman (who has cancer) is made all the more shocking when we consider the State has refused to jail any of the politicians or bankers responsible for the near collapse of the State, yet seeks to jail an elderly artist for standing up for integrity and human rights.

We declare ourselves in complete solidarity with her actions, applaud her bravery in a time of tremendous cowardice, and call for her immediate release. – Yours, etc,





GER RYAN (On behalf of

240 Irish artists),

C/o Mespil Apartments,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Margaretta D’Arcy is not in jail for her political beliefs. She is in jail because she broke the law. The particular law she broke has nothing to do with her political beliefs. Granted, she is an elderly woman and I wouldn’t expect or indeed condone her incarceration for very long. However, I must put this question to your outraged correspondents. If she weren’t put in jail for breaking the law, law passed by the democratic will of the Irish people, would this not be a gross injustice to the rest of us? – Yours, etc,


Gore Street,

Killala, Co Mayo.

Sir, – In 2003, I attended anti-war demonstrations in Dublin, Cork and Shannon alongside senior Labour Party figures. Up to 100,000 people marched through Dublin, and tens of thousands mobilised elsewhere across the island. Apart from opposing the planned US invasion of Iraq, we were united in rejecting the use of Shannon Airport by the US war machine. What a difference a decade makes! Several of those senior Labour Party figures are now in government and presiding over the continued misuse of Shannon by the US military. Their volte-face on Irish, ahem, “neutrality” was made plain on Wednesday with the jailing of 79-year-old writer and anti-war activist Margaretta D’Arcy, who is in poor health.

There has been much talk about “economic treason” and outrage against bankers, property developers and politicians who laid our economy low. How many were sent to prison? Yet anti-war activists are jailed for standing by principles once shared by those now in the leadership of the Labour Party. They should hang their heads in shame! Ms D’Arcy is a brave and principled lady. She should be released immediately with a formal apology from the Minister for Justice. – Yours, etc,


Lennox Place,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Margaretta D’Arcy’s gravest crime (Home News, January 16th) is her refusal to swear a false oath, while crossing her fingers behind her back. People such as Ms D’Arcy belong in prison, as did Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. Like these great moral leaders, her uncompromising refusal to trim her sails to the prevailing winds of expediency, and her insistence on acting in accordance with the principles of justice and honesty, have marked her out as a troublemaker who has to be defeated and crushed.

Simply put, Ms D’Arcy had to be incarcerated; how else could the two-faced dishonesty that is our State’s position on neutrality be upheld? – Yours, etc,


Tweed Street, Highett,