On Sunday, May 27 a march will take place on the Falls Road highlighting the continuing and unjust imprisonment of veteran republican Marian Price. The outcome of this march should not be dictated by those who have chosen to turn a blind eye, but rather by those who believe what is happening to Marian is totally wrong and therefore feel compelled to come out of their homes in support of her plight.
There is a serious dearth of ex-republican prisoners coming out on to the streets to identify and empathise with Marian’s cause. There is also a worrying silence from the many ex-prisoners’ groups, groups who have quite recently threatened to impeach the British Government for the very offences currently being visited on Marian Price.
Like many republicans, I cannot remember a time when prisons and republican prisoners were not a feature of my life. My maternal grandfather was interned on the infamous prison ship Argenta. My father’s cousin and close friend, Terence Perry, died in Parkhurst prison as the result of an illness which was greatly exacerbated by the conditions he was kept in. My father served a commuted life sentence in the Crumlin Road prison, his eventual release the result of a reprieve.
From a young age, I remember walking the streets with my father collecting for prisoners’ welfare. I remember sitting with him as he diligently counted the cash and placed the very meagre monies in tiny brown envelopes to be delivered to the prisoners’ families. I remember coming downstairs in the wee small hours to sit quietly beside him as he typed letters to highlight the cause of republican prisoners wherever he could. The fact that he was a fluent Irish speaker and adept in several other languages provided him the opportunity to take the prisoners’ cause to a previously untapped audience.
Often – and especially throughout this recent campaign for Marian’s release – I have found myself thinking continually about him. I know precisely where he would have stood in relation to Marian, the re-introduction of repressive legislation and the brutalisation of republican prisoners. I know because, just like Marian, his own prison experience left an indelible mark which went to the very core of his being. Like Marian, he could not dislodge himself from a cause that would dictate his life and his psyche. He never forgot the people who spilled out on to the streets in their thousands to campaign for his and his comrades’ reprieve.
On his release from prison, the prison and prisoner issues remained for him a constant. As a founder member of the Felons Club he was determined to create an atmosphere within a republican society whereby republican prisoners would never feel excluded again. Sadly, and very regrettably, it never happened. It never happened because, quite ironically, republicans, republican prisoners and ex-prisoners are finding themselves dangerously and quite menacingly more excluded and ostracised within the context of the ‘new phase of the struggle’ than they have been for decades.
On May 27, many of us will be given a chance to go some way to restoring the balance. We can make the most of the opportunity to make a real difference to the life of a republican prisoner who has already suffered so much. We have a chance to align our feet and our voices with decades of republican prison struggle. We have a chance to tell those who need to hear it very clearly: Free Marian Price!
Nuala Perry is a former political prisoner.