[Marxism] Marian Price on Sinn Fein current direction

Philip Ferguson philip.ferguson at canterbury.ac.nz
Sun Dec 12 23:03:09 MST 2004

Old Bailey Bomber Ashamed of Sinn Fein
By Suzanne Breen

A well-dressed, articulate, middle-aged woman, Marian Price wouldn't
look out of place on a Sinn Féin negotiating team meeting Tony
Blair or Bertie Ahern. 

But she'd face jail and hunger-strike all over again rather than take
part: "I would be ashamed to be on any delegation to Downing Street
given what's on the table. The only reason for going there should be
to negotiate the freedom of our country. 

"If I went to agree to British rule, restoring Stormont, or signing up
to a partitionist police force, I'd hope at least to have the decency
to hang my head in shame."

The last time Price visited London was to blow it up. With her sister
Dolours and Gerry Kelly, now a Sinn Féin negotiator, she was part
of an 11-strong IRA unit which in March 1973 planted bombs at the Old
Bailey, New Scotland Yard, Whitehall, and the British Forces
Broadcasting Office. 

They were arrested attempting to fly home from Heathrow Airport. A
200-day hunger-strike and force-feeding regime made the sisters
household names. "I did what I believed in," Price says. "Nothing
Provisional IRA or Sinn Féin leaders do can denigrate that. 

"But I'm very angry when I see so much has been sacrificed for so
little. All these lives have been lost - IRA volunteers, civilians,
policemen, British soldiers - and for what? If this is what they're
settling for, we all could have joined the SDLP back then."

Price (50) came from a staunch republican family in West Belfast. She
believes IRA membership is too often explained away as an emotional
response to events: "I made an ideological choice to join. It wasn't a
reaction to Bloody Sunday, internment or anything else."

Her childhood ambition was to be a nurse. She left school with a
string of 'O' and 'A' levels and secured one of only five places on a
course at the Royal Victoria Hospital. She denies there was a huge
contradiction between IRA membership and nursing. 

"One day, a wounded British soldier was brought into casualty. He was
wearing a dirty vest. He looked frightened. I felt very sorry for him.
That night, I told my comrades and one joked that I should have
finished him off. 

"I asked why on earth I'd do that. He was no longer a soldier, he'd
been taken out of the battlefield. He was a patient now, I'd have no
difficulty looking after him."

The bombing mission was the Provisional IRA's first to England. The
idea and planning came from the sisters. Price travelled on the
Dublin-Liverpool ferry with one of the four car bombs which was then
driven to London. 

Did she never consider the morality of planting bombs in densely
populated areas?: "The warnings given were twice as long as in
Belfast. That was a conscious decision because we knew the English
lacked experience of evacuation. We didn't want civilian casualties,
from a moral or pragmatic viewpoint."

Yet there were casualties. Two bombs were defused but those at the Old
Bailey and Whitehall exploded, injuring 200 people, mainly with flying
glass. Price expresses regret but says the injuries "weren't

"I've never had a sleepless night over anything I've done as an IRA
volunteer. Bombs are weapons of war. Western states have used them far
more brutally than we ever did. 

"George Bush and Tony Blair send other people's sons out to die
without ever venturing onto the battlefield themselves. They drop far
bigger bombs from B52s on women and children and they don't give any
warnings at all." 

Price is an atheist: "When I look around the world, I think if there's
a God, he's a bad God." 

After her arrest at Heathrow, she was interrogated for five days. "I
was stripped in the police station and given a grey blanket to wear. I
was embarrassed because there were a lot of policemen about and I was
sexually innocent. 

"They used no physical violence but I wasn't let sleep once. The
lights were kept on in my cell and the police were there at all times.
If I started to doze off, they clapped their hands."

She remained remarkably unfazed: "I remember a detective saying to me,
'I bet your mother will be proud of you' and I thought 'yes, she will
be very proud of me.' My father was on a bombing mission to England in
the forties, so it was a family tradition."

The sisters were charged and moved to Brixton Prison. They were
strip-searched daily and locked 23-hours a day in cells where again
the lights were permanently on. 

As a 19-year-old facing potential life imprisonment in England, wasn't
she depressed?: "It never entered my head. I'd known what I believed
in and the risks involved. 

"My mother, her sisters, and my granny had been in Cumann na mBan. My
Aunt Bridie was badly injured lifting an IRA arms dump in the 30s. It
exploded and she lost her hands and sight. She was 26. 

"When we were growing up, it was never a case of 'poor Bridie.' We
were just proud of her sacrifice. She came home from hospital to a wee
house with an outside toilet, no social worker, no disability
allowance, and no counselling. She just got on with it." 

Price claims that during their 1973 trial, the bombers learned they
had been compromised by a high-placed informer in Belfast who knew all
the details but didn't take part in the operation. 

"It emerged in court that customs at Liverpool realised one of the
cars had false number plates. They phoned Scotland Yard but were told
to wave it through. 

"The authorities allowed the bombs to happen. They had details of the
operation in advance that could only have come from a senior figure in
Belfast. We learned that photos of Dolours and I had been circulated
at airports and ports across Britain nine hours before the bombs
exploded," says Price. 

She claims that during the trial they agreed it would be less damaging
for the IRA if they appeared "young, stupid and incompetent," rather
than publicly exposing an informer. She claims to know the identity of
the alleged informer whom, she says, remains in a leadership

The Price sisters, Gerry Kelly and Hugh Feeney went on hunger-strike
in Brixton Prison in November 1973 as part of a campaign to be
repatriated to serve their sentences in Northern Ireland. 

"Four male prison officers tie you into the chair so tightly with
sheets you can't struggle," says Price. "You clench your teeth to try
to keep your mouth closed but they push a metal spring device around
your jaw to prise it open. 

"They force a wooden clamp with a hole in the middle into your mouth. 
Then, they insert a big rubber tube down that. They hold your head
back. You can't move. 

"They throw whatever they like into the food mixer - orange juice,
soup, or cartons of cream if they want to beef up the calories. They
take jugs of this gruel from the food mixer and pour it into a funnel
attached to the tube. 

"The force-feeding takes 15 minutes but it feels like forever. You're
in control of nothing. You're terrified the food will go down the
wrong way and you won't be able to let them know because you can't
speak or move. You're frightened you'll choke to death."

Price was force-fed 400 times over six months. "I knew nothing about
force-feeding beforehand," says Price. "I thought it was like when you
hold a baby's nose and put a spoon in its mouth. Ignorance was

After the sisters went on hunger-strike, the British Home Office
dispatched eminent psychiatrist Peter Scott to examine them. "He said
he'd been sent to certify us so we could be force-fed. He left saying
we knew exactly what we were doing and the problem was we were too
sane," Price says. 

They built a good rapport with Dr Ian Blythe, the prison doctor: "He
called us 'my girls.' As the hunger-strike went on, he arm-wrestled
with us, pretending it was a game but really testing us to see how
much we were weakening." 

Dolours was first to be force fed, three weeks into the

"I met her in the exercise yard afterwards. She was in a terrible
state. She said it she couldn't go through that again. I told her she
didn't have to, she could come off the hunger-strike immediately, but
I'd stay on. 

"She said we'd come off together or not at all. She was much braver
than me because she was so much more afraid of force-feeding yet she
didn't give in." Two days later, Marian was force-fed. 

While Dolours endured the procedure once a day, Marian suffered it
twice daily because she vomited so often afterwards. "I always threw
up when they pulled the tube out of my stomach. It was vile. I would
be exhausted afterwards but you couldn't even lie in bed in your cell
in privacy because the screws came in with you. 

"Sometimes when they arrived to force feed me, I would struggle; other
times I didn't have the energy to fight. The low point was having no
control over your weight. But not for one minute did I think of giving
up. They were never, ever going to break me."

One day, a doctor put the tube into Price's lung, not her stomach, and
water flooded in. "I felt like I was drowning. I passed out. They
carried me back to my cell. The doctors were standing over me when I
came round.  If had been food, not water in the tube, it would have
killed me. The medical and prison staff told the authorities they
wouldn't force feed me again."

A fortnight after that incident in May 1974, the hunger-strike ended
and a deal was reached. The sisters were moved to Armagh Prison the
following March. 

The British Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, was loathed by republicans
for his treatment of the hunger-strikers. Price says she doesn't hate
him: "He was caught up in the politics of the situation. He followed
orders. I once asked the psychiatrist Peter Scott who knew him to
invite him to Brixton to visit us. He said he wouldn't come because if
he met us, he'd want to send us home."

Price was freed after five years in Armagh Jail, suffering from
anorexia and tuberculosis. Ten-and-a-half stone when she was arrested,
she left prison half that weight. 

On release from jail, she says she was in no physical or mental state
to rejoin the IRA and had no interest in a Sinn Féin career: "I
like politics but not politicians. To be a politician, you must be a
liar and a hypocrite."

Still, she was initially positive about Sinn Féin's rise,
believing it would strengthen the IRA campaign: "I remember watching
TV as Sinn Féin swept down the stairs in Belfast City Hall with
Tricolour ribbons and champagne after an election victory. 

"My father was disgusted. He pointed to Gerry Adams and said, 'I've
been around longer than you, that boy will sell you out.' I told him
to give Sinn Féin a chance. I was wrong."

>From 1994, Price had "serious concerns" about the leadership's
political direction but "loyalty to the movement" kept her quiet.
Eventually, she spoke at one 'republican family' meeting in West
Belfast, expressing doubts. A senior IRA member visited her home: "He
told me what I was saying wasn't appreciated and he'd shot people for

She claims the Republican Movement underwent a transformation: "People
began to make financial gain from the movement. Those who had never
worked a day in their lives, now had better homes, cars, and holidays
than their neighbours. 

"It used to be what you could do for the movement, now it's what the
movement can do for you. In the past, to be a republican brought
financial hardship. But that was okay because to be a republican was
to be something special. You knew you were right."

Price says that while the peace process has secured "a measure of
equality" for Catholics, a British withdrawal and the ending of
partition is further away than ever. 

Five years ago, she joined the 32 County Sovereignty Movement which
security sources say is the Real IRA's political wing, a claim the
group denies. She says her military days are over but she won't
condemn others "for doing what I did myself."

She claims 'armed struggle' is morally justified "while the British
occupy part of this country." The Real IRA has proved itself incapable
of waging a sustained campaign against the state and lacks popular
support. Physical force republicanism has never been weaker in recent

Price refuses to recognise 'armed struggle' is now pointless:
"Sometimes it's necessary to do something just to let it be known
there are people out there who don't accept the status quo. 

"Being a minority of a minority is nothing new for republicans. You
don't join for an easy life or to be popular. As a child, I remember
50 people at an Easter parade on the Falls Road."

Despite everything, she has no regrets: "Disappointments maybe. I'm
disappointed in Gerry Kelly. I expected more of him but I'd never
detract from the physical bravery he showed. Gerry Adams and I were
once friends. We certainly aren't now. He may have difficulty
admitting his IRA past but I'm very, very proud of mine."

More information about the Marxism mailing list