The Blanket


Marian Price has been a life long Republican. She was jailed for her participation in the IRA bombing campaign in England in 1973, went on hunger strike and was force-fed for more than 100 days. She was released in 1980. She left the Provisional Movement in 1998, due to differences over the Peace Process. She is now chairperson of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA), and is active in the Thirty-two County Sovereignty Movement (32 CSM). Carrie Twomey speaks to her about the past, present and future of Irish Republicanism


Q: How do you see the lay of the land for Republicans?

A: I think it's very interesting. I felt and still do believe that Sinn Féin will go the whole way. I don't think they have any intentions of going back from this agreement.

As far as Republicanism goes, I wouldn't consider SF of today being republicans, I see SF as being a nationalist party. And that's by choice. For Republicanism I think we had a setback, I believe that it's fragmented. But I think that if we just stop and take stock, we can rebuild the Republican Movement and probably it will be a stronger movement for this, because the people who will be in the Republican Movement will be republicans, not nationalists or militant Catholics.

Q: So in saying that, do you think that this movement you envision will come out of a Republican tradition rather than a defender tradition?

A: Well, in many ways, the Provo movement, and I was a member of it and have no regrets about being a member of it, but there was an element within the Provo movement that certainly would have been a Catholic defender element and I think we all have to acknowledge that. Yes, I do think that this movement will be a purer movement because we realize that what SF have done at the moment is they've skirted around every issue except the core that republicanism is concerned with and that is the establishment of the Republic. I think that now that the RM would be concentrating on the one issue, that is of the greatest importance. We can plaster over cracks within society with regard to equality agendas, better social things for people but the core issue has never been addressed and certainly this GFA doesn't address it. So yes, I see it as a purer movement and a better movement.

Q: The GFA really has institutionalized sectarianism and it has also really brought out the sectarian elements in each of the parties in order to uphold it. This leads to the question, the Republic, if this movement does revolve around the ideal of the Republic, can you see it transcending the sectarianism that has been brought to the fore and being something that Protestants in this community would be attracted to, interested in, feel that they could have a place in it? Or do you think that what's been going on in terms of entrenching the sectarianism will make that harder?

A: It will make that harder, but I don't think that should stop us from trying. Certainly I do feel that the parties involved in the GFA - I won't say encourage sectarianism but they play on it very much to their own advantage. That isn't what I see Republicanism being about. And I think that the Republicanism that I want to build is going to be a secular republicanism that everyone would feel included and I would hope that that would include the Protestant community. I don't see why Protestants should be excluded from republicanism.

Q: Going back to the defender tradition, with the increasing problems in North Belfast, the attacks in Short Strand, the organised campaign of the UDA, and with elements of the IRA responding to it as well that is only going to add fuel to the fire, and may as it progresses and gets worse, it may have a similar effect that '69 had in firing up people… Can you see this purer Republicanism that is based on republican ideals, how would it react to that kind of anger and that kind of motivation?

A: Well there always is the danger and I know traditionally in the past republicanism would have always come to the aid of the nationalist community when they have been attacked - I don't believe that that has been really on a sectarian front. I think it's more that their base would be in the nationalist community and therefore they feel that they have to consolidate and protect their base. And I can understand that. But I think that within the RM we must keep paramount in everything that our war isn't with the Protestants at all or even the loyalists. It's with the Brits. Because that's ultimately where the decision lay. If the British decide to get out of the 6 counties the loyalists wont have a say in it. And that's why I would hope that if the Brits make a declaration of an intent to withdraw then Republicans and even the Loyalist community can start discussing the way forward together.

Q: Can you see the British identity sitting side by side with the Irish identity in the Republic?

A: Absolutely, I have no problem with that. I have no problems with the Orangemen marching up and down the Shankill Road. The only problem I have is if they are trying to enter Nationalist areas. So if there is a Republic and they want to celebrate King William or the Battle of the Boyne, I don't have a problem with that. As a Republican, I have no hidden agendas; it doesn't bother me if King James was beaten at the Battle of the Boyne, because it is a total irrelevance!

Q: Do you think that there is a large level of marginalisation in the working class areas of Belfast?

A: Certainly. I believe that there is a greater gap between rich and poor, and in that sense the working class is more marginalised. But I think that this is a worldwide phenomenon too. I don't think that it is limited to Ireland.

Q: What do you see contributing to it?

A: The large multinational companies throughout the world. The combined assets of the two hundred richest companies in the world are greater than the combined income of two thirds of the world's population. They control the world.

Q: Do you see any merit in the anti-globalisation campaigns?

A: Yes. I am very sympathetic to the protestors out there.

Q: How do you view the needs of the loyalist working class?

A: I think that they are every bit as great, if not more than the nationalist working class.

Q: Can Republicanism offer anything to the working class loyalists?

A: I would hope so. I hope that with Republicanism - not nationalism - they will see a bright future for themselves in the country of Ireland, that within Republicanism, they could grow and blossom. Because I feel that if this country is united, they would find the republicans to be their best friends. I wouldn't want to work within a State in which the Roman Catholic Church has a special place, Republicanism is about a secular state.

Q: What do you think of punishment beatings and shootings?

A: I don't have any sympathy for the so-called hoods, but I don't see punishment beatings and shootings as the answer to the problem. When you look at Sinn Féin, who's a hood? The one getting beaten or the one giving the beating? There is a demand within the communities to have something done, but we should reach young people in a different way, and try to channel their energy into more productive things. If they were more involved within their own communities, and did not feel so isolated, maybe they would act differently. I think that there is a danger that in the community trying to police itself, they are exchanging one set of thugs for another. I think that there is a big danger there. I think that when individuals take upon themselves to police, they have to be very careful.

Q: What's your view of public demand for the Provo decommissioning?

A: Well, as a Republican, I have no problem with whatever the Provisionals choose to do with their guns, because as I see it the only people they use them against are young nationalist men and certainly Republicans. The only threat that Provisional guns pose are to people who disagree with their strategy. I don't think that they pose any threat to the British or the Loyalists. The Provisionals use their guns to control their own communities, and as a threat to people who have a different political analysis. So what they do with their weaponry doesn't really concern me.

Q: It seems that grassroots have accepted concession after concession; do you think that they will decommission, and if so, will there be any major reactions
against it?

A: I believe that the leadership of the Provisional movement have actually accepted decommissioning. I think that the problem they are having is how to sell it to their grassroots, or how they get round to their grassroots, how they do it, and then tell their grassroots they haven't really done it. Everything is sold to the grassroots as a "tactic." It has been said to me by supporters of the Provisionals that decommissioning is the line in the sand, and they can't cross that. That will be for their grassroots to decide. But in my view, they crossed the line in the sand many years ago. Their grassroots have told me "decommissioning is THE line in the sand, they won't cross it," but I replied to them not to be surprised if it did happen.

Q: Do you think that there has been a change in the make-up of the grassroots, and if so, does this explain why so much has gone past them?

A: I think that over a number of years, the composition of Sinn Féin's grassroots has changed. They are encouraging more middle class people to come into the movement, because it is now respectable to be associated with Sinn Féin. A lot of people think that if they support Sinn Féin it automatically means that they are Republican. But a vote for Sinn Féin today is not a vote for Republicanism. A vote for Sinn Féin is a vote for Nationalism. But a strong nationalist vote is nothing recent. Joe Devlin always won in the 1930s and 1940s. I think that Sinn Féin have moved ground, rather than there has been a big influx in the Republican family, or because many people have been converted to Republicanism.

Q: As chairperson of the IRPWA, you are doing a lot of work with prisoners...

A: I am very committed to work with the prisoners, because I have been in prison, and I know what it is like, and I feel that our prisoners are being forgotten. Certainly when I was on hunger strike and protesting for my beliefs, I knew I got people behind me and supporting me and it meant a great deal to me; I am just returning that.

Q: What about ex- prisoners, are their needs met?

A: If you follow the Sinn Féin line, you are OK, if you don't - watch your back.

Q: There are so many different organisations supporting exprisoners. Why is support being so fragmented?

A: To be honest I think this is just a phenomenon of this campaign, because I do know that in previous campaigns when prisoners came out there was only one Republican family to move to and they were welcomed home. The difficulty now because of this so-called Peace Process, the wider Republican family has been fragmented, and if you do not belong to the Provisional Movement you are ostracized and sidelined, and that hasn't been the case in the past. It's a sad thing. I hope that the Provisional Movement will go back to the ethos of the wider Republican family.

Q: Do you think that there's enough discussion among Republican ex-prisoners of their respective experiences?

A: That's a hard one to answer. Sometimes I think that discussions of the experiences of prisoners are being used for another agenda. I notice that there is a commemoration coming up to commemorate Kieran Doherty. I see that there are various social events organized around that (stories from inside, etc). I would wonder if anybody is going to sit down and discuss why Kieran Doherty died on hunger strike, why he made that sacrifice, and the implications that this has for today. I don't think that this will be discussed. I don't think that the hunger strikes and that whole period should be written into folklore, and I think there is a
danger of that happening. The reasons why people were on hunger strike should be discussed in a serious, not in a light way.

I was on hunger strike, and I did what I had to do because the circumstances dictated it, I had no other option. But it has been transformed into some sort of myth. But that doesn't make me any greater or better than any other prisoners.

As ex-prisoners, we should sit down and talk and share our experiences, especially with younger generations of Republicans, that they can learn from it. But not learn that we are some sort of icons, that we are different from everybody else. We are just humans. We all had our bad days inside, but you kick yourself and go beyond. The Blanketmen are heroes, but that does not mean that they did not suffer. What they did wasn't easy and to have it presented in a way which makes light the actual human sacrifices that this has entailed, that would be wrong.

The Republican Movement consists of the young men and women who live in the same street as us, it is not some master race who lives down in caves up in the hills, who are a breed apart. The RM is ordinary people who do extraordinary things for what they believe in, that's where it gets its strength. You have to remember that there are a lot of people within the Republican Movement who are never identified as Republicans, who do sterling work in the background, in whatever capacity they are working in, and they are really the backbone of RM, the unsung heroes, they are the people whose name will never go down in books, who are never going to be sung about in songs, they are the backbone of the RM.

Q: A lot of people have become disillusioned and have walked away from Republican politics. How do you react to this fact? What has made you take a stance?

A: It definitively is the easier option. Certainly from my point of view, it came to the point I felt that somebody had to speak out, it wasn't right that true Republicans be on the sidelines and that everything that had been fought for and died for, all the sacrifices that had been made were just irrelevant. Nobody was saying anything about it. That was what compelled me to speak out and be politically active.

However, I do understand true Republicans walking away and closing the door. That has happened in the past. Because when you do speak out, you are vilified, and life is made as difficult as possible for you. I just think that I have come to terms with that, I am prepared to live with that. But I do understand that other Republicans feeling so disheartened want to walk away.

I can understand that, because I went through all those emotions. I think that we have to speak out. We can't let it go down in history that this was what the war was fought for, and that is what is being sold to people: that there was a thirty years war fought for what we have today, and this is such a blatant lie. We as Republicans have to go out there and say, this is a lie, this is not why the war was fought. We have to get it recorded in history that this is not what Republicanism is about, this is not what sacrifices were made for.

When I talk of sacrifices, I do not only speak only of the sacrifices made by the Republican Movement, I am talking of the sacrifices made throughout the country, the civilian population had made, that we in the Republican Movement have killed. I do not apologise for any actions taken by the Republican Movement, but I always believed that the justification for it was that we were fighting for a greater cause, and that in many ways, the end justifies the means. But now, we're being told that this is the end. But this end didn't justify any of the means that have been used. Sunningdale was actually better than what we have on offer today! But, a long war has been fought, many thousands of people have died, people have spent entire lives in prison, lives have been shattered, people died on hunger strike, but a better deal was on offer before this; but Republicans said no to that deal, because it wasn't what Republicanism is all about.

I can't begin to understand how anybody that has been in the movement for all these years can turn round and say "right, we're running with this deal" after all that has happened before. I don't understand. In some ways, I can understand that a younger generation can accept this deal, but the Sinn Féin leadership were there thirty years ago when that other deal was on the table, and they were part of the Republican movement that rejected it. I want to know what has changed to make this deal acceptable.

Q: If the Provisional leadership had been honest and said, "We lost, but we can't do better, this is the best that we can get," would that have been acceptable to you?

A: It would have been more acceptable than what they present today, as if they had some sort of victory. My alternative to what they have done would have been that if they had come to the conclusion that the war was going nowhere, that we couldn't win - rather than lost - the right thing to do would been to have the moral courage to say "the war is over, and we didn't win." They should have had the moral courage to do that.

Once they've done that, I think that would have opened up a variety of avenues to them, they wouldn't have been trapped in the cul de sac in which they are now stuck. If they had made that courageous declaration that the war is over because we couldn't win it, I think that they could have then regrouped and decided what is the best way forward. They didn't then have to go in the British establishment and agree to run and take part in the British rule in the Six Counties. Throughout history, Republicans have never lacked the moral courage to admit when they couldn't win, and Republicans have always stood by the movement when the movement made that courageous decision, it happened in the 1940s, in the 1950s. There were no reasons why the present leadership couldn't have said to the movement, we cannot take it any further, and the movement would have certainly accepted it. There would have been no split or anything. The movement would have regrouped and said "That's not working. Where do we now go from here?" It could have gone ahead as a united movement. Instead, certain individuals decided, this is the path that it is going down, and force the movement down that path no matter what.

Q: It was dishonest?

A: I think that there was a lot of dishonesty around the whole so called negotiations. There were contacts being made between certain individuals in the Republican Movement with the British, and this was done behind the back of other individuals in the RM who were under the impression that the war was going to be fought to the bitter end. I feel that the leadership decided where it was going, and has dragged along the movement yelling and screaming, and if people were screaming too loud, they were sidelined very quickly.

Q: Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by the GFA. How do you see them in practice?

A: They'll uphold your right to freedom of speech as long as you say what they want you to. I think it's a joke.

Q: Is freedom of expression something important to Republicans?

A: I would say so. I don't think that freedom of speech is of any threat to Republicanism, and certainly think that it should be open to criticism, and open to hearing other points of view. I don't have a problem with people saying what they feel or what they think.

Q: How did you get to where you are today?

A: I come from a very strong Republican family. In many ways, I was born into it. But in saying that, I don't think that I have blind loyalty to Republicanism. I think that in your life there comes a time when you question everything and have to make your own decisions as to what is best for you and what is right and wrong, and in my teenage years, I did come to that point in my life, where I questioned a lot about Republicanism. I think that although I was born in it, I then had to "renew our baptismal vows at Bodenstown" as they say. There comes a point in your life where you have to make the decision to be a Republican. Luckily, I found the answer in the Republican Movement, and was able to renew my "baptism of vows."

Q: When did you break with the Provos?

A: At the start of this so-called peace process, I had great concerns, but like many Republicans I was prepared to let them run with it for awhile, to see where it was going. That was the case for a few years. I was prepared to trust the leadership in place that this was the best road. When the Framework Principles, and the Mitchell Principles were presented, I saw the writing on the wall, and thought there's nothing for us in this, now is the time to get out of this, this is just a cul de sac.

Q: Were you threatened by the Provisionals?

A: Yes I was. A member of the Provisionals visited my home to tell me that the fact that I was expressing views that were critical of Sinn Féin, was not tolerable, and that I should better keep my mouth shut. Those visits continued for quite a number of weeks, but I made it perfectly clear to them that I wasn't going to be intimidated by them. I hadn't let the British intimidate me, and I wasn't going to be intimidated by the Provisionals.

Q: Why do you think that the Provisionals have to keep threatening people such as yourself while you have given so much to the movement?

A: Whatever you've given to the Republican movement counts for nothing, if you're not a "Yes" person within the Provisional Movement of today, everything else is disregarded. If you don't go along with the leadership, it doesn't matter what you've done in the past, you' re completely disregarded. If this leadership is so convinced that it is in the right path, I don't understand why they won't debate with others, be upfront about things and let us all put all our cards on the table and air our grievances, and if we are so wrong in our analysis, let them explain to us why we are so wrong. We are prepared to argue with them, if they are so convinced that they are right, why can't we all talk about this? Why is there this conspiracy of silence, where no one is allowed to speak out? Or if someone speaks out, they are vilified?

Q: Do you have any regrets?

A: None.

Q: How do you view the future?

A: Unfortunately I see a long hard struggle coming. I know that when I joined the Republican Movement and the IRA and ended up in prison, I was always confident in the thought that my generation would be the last generation. History and events on the ground proved me wrong. But I hope that new Republicans will feel as I did when I joined the Republican Movement, and will be encouraged by the principles and ideals and the quality of people around them, and also by the history of Republicanism and the sacrifices that have been made, that this will encourage them in thinking that Republicanism is the only way forward. I fervently believe that Republicanism is the only viable option for the people Ireland.

Q: Do you think that Republican objectives can be achieved by purely political means?

A: I don't know, I have to say that. But coming from the background I come from, if there are people who believe that it can't be and want to try other means, I won't be the person who is going to say that they are wrong, because I was at the stage in my life where I believed that armed struggle was the way forward. There are other people who think that.

Q: Short term future?

A: A lot of hard work. We have a growing number of prisoners to be looked after. We in the 32CSM, we have a lot of hard work to do, to show that the core issue has never been addressed, and until it is addressed, nothing else will work. The core issue is the British presence in Ireland, and until it is addressed, through a British declaration of intent to withdraw, the basic problem will remain.

Q: What do you make of the fact that people are backing the GFA?

A: You're hearing people say on the street, "Well, at least no one is getting killed," and if you reply "But what we've got today is a complete sell-out," they say "but no one is dying." And that is true, but then what was the point of starting in the first place? I do think that, as history proves it, when so-called revolutionaries become the establishment, they become more establishment than the establishment ever was.




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Winter 2002
Vol. 1 No. 1

Free Speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game.
Free speech is life itself.
- Salman Rushdie

Republicanism in Crisis

The Cracks in the "PNF"

A Journal of Dissent

Under the Foot of the Mountain: Brendan Hughes

Author's Choice: Rogelio Alonso, A Just War?

Interview: Marian Price

Books: Soul Wars

Books: Anthologies Package our Literary Past

Unionism and Decommissioning

Turkish Hunger Strike Report

Taking Sides in the War on Modernity

Writing This Issue



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices