Interview with Marian Price from early 2000s

Marian Price is a long-time revolutionary activist in the national liberation struggle in Ireland.  She was imprisoned in Britain in the 1970s for her activities in the IRA (Provos).  While in prison she went on hunger strike and was force-fed for more than 100 days.  Marian left the Provos in 1998 over disagreements with the direction taken by the republican leadership.  She is now active in the 32-County Sovereignty Movement and is chairperson of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association. Marian is currently being held in prison in the six counties; see here.

Below is a slightly-edited version of an interview with her conducted by Carrie Twomey, which appeared in the Irish republican internet journal The Blanket.  It has mainly been edited with an eye to a NZ readership not necessarily familiar with particular groups, individuals and events.  I copied and pasted it into a word document in 2004, but there’s no trace of when the interview took place and appeared in The Blanket and I can’t find it by googling.  I assume the interview was done, therefore, in 2004 or at most a year or two earlier.

Carrie Twomey: How do you see the lay of the land for Irish republicans?

Marian Price: I think it’s very interesting.  I felt and still do believe that Sinn Fein will go the whole way.  I don’t think they have any intentions of going back from the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).  As far as republicanism goes, I wouldn’t consider SF today to be republican.  I see SF now 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 in it will be genuine republicans and not nationalists or militant Catholics.

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

MP: Well, in many ways, the Provo movement – and I was a member of it and have no regrets about that – had an element that certainly would have been a Catholic defender element, and I think we all have to acknowledge that.

What Sinn Fein are doing now is skirting around the core issue of establishing an all-Ireland republic.  But that is the issue of the greatest importance.  We can plaster over the cracks in society with equality agendas and better social things, but the core issue is not getting addressed and the GFA certainly doesn’t address it.

CT: The GFA really has institutionalised sectarianism and has also really brought out the sectarian elements in each of the parties in order to uphold it.  This leads to an important question.  If a reforged Republican Movement does revolve around the ideal of establishing an all-Ireland republic, can you see it transcending the sectarianism that has been brought to the fore and being something that Protestants in the north of Ireland would be attracted to, interested in, feel they could have a place in?  Or do you think that what’s been going on in terms of entrenching the sectarianism will make that harder?

MP: It will make that harder, but I don’t think that should stop us from trying.  Parties involved in the GFA play on sectarianism very much to their own advantage.  That isn’t what I see republicanism as being about.  The republicanism I want to build is a secular republicanism that would include everyone. . .

We must keep paramount in everything we do that our war isn’t with the protestants at all, or even with the loyalists.  It’s with the British state.  Because that’s ultimately where the decisions lay.  If the Brits decide to get out of the six counties (‘Northern Ireland’) , the loyalists won’t 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 loyalists can start discussing a way forward together.

CT: Can you see the British identity (of the loyalists) sitting side-by-side with the Irish identity in an all-Ireland republic?

MP: Absolutely, I have no problems with that.  I don’t even have a problem with the Orangemen marching up and down the Shankill Road.  The only problem I have is if they are trying to enter a nationalist area.  So if there is an all-Ireland republic and they want to celebrate King William or the Battle of the Boyne, I don’t have a problem with that.  It doesn’t bother me that King James was beaten at the Battle of the Boyne because it is a total irrelevance.

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

MP: I think they are every bit as great as, if not more than, the needs of the nationalist working class.

CT: Can republicanism offer anything to loyalist workers?

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

CT: To return to Sinn Fein and the IRA, what’s your view of public demands for the IRA to decommission its weapons?

MP: 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 are now using them against are young nationalist men and republicans.  The only threat that IRA guns now pose is to people who disagree with their strategy.  I don’t think that they pose any threat to the Brits.

The Provisionals now 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.

CT: It seems that the SF and IRA grassroots have accepted concession after concession by their leaders.  Do you think that they will decommission and, if so, will the grassroots react against this?

MP: I believe that the leadership of the Provisionals have actually accepted decommissioning.  I think that the problem they have is how to sell it to their grassroots, or how they get round 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 people who still support the Provisionals that decommissioning is the line in the sand and that they can’t cross that.  That will be for their grassroots to decide.  But in my view they crossed the line on the sand many years ago.

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

MP: I think that over a number of years the composition of Sinn Fein’s grassroots changed.  They have been encouraging more middle class people to come into the movement, because it is now respectable to be associated with Sinn Fein.

A lot of people think that if they support Sinn Fein it automatically means that they are republican.  But a vote for SF today is not a vote for republicanism.  A vote for Sinn Fein now is a vote for nationalism.  A strong nationalist vote is nothing new.  (Bourgeois-nationalist) Joe Devlin always won in the 1930s and 1940s.

I think that SF has moved ground, rather than there being a big influx of people into the republican family or because many people have been converted to genuine republicanism.

CT: 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?

MP: It definitely is the easier option.  Certainly, from my point of view, it came to the point where I felt someone 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 irrelevant.

Nobody was saying anything about it.  That was what compelled me to speak out.  However, I do understand 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 understand other republicans walking away disheartened, because I went through all those emotions.  But we have to speak out.

We can’t let it go down in history that this, the current ‘settlement’, is what the war was fought for.  But that is what is being sold to the people – that there was thirty years of war for what we have today.  This is such a blatant lie.  We as republicans have to go out there and say this is a lie, this is not what republicanism is about, this is not why the war was fought, this is not what sacrifices were made for.

And when I talk about sacrifices, I don’t mean only the sacrifices made by republicans, I mean the sacrifices made throughout the country, the civilians that we in the republican Movement killed.  I don’t apologise for any actions, but I always believed that the justification was that we were fighting for a greater cause and that in many ways the ends justify the means.

But now, we’re being told this is the end.  But this end doesn’t justify any of the means that have been used.

Sunningdale – a power-sharing agreement offered to republicans by the British in 1973 – was actually better than what we have on offer today!  But a long war has been fought, thousands of people have died, lives have been shattered, people died on hunger strike, people have spent entire lives in prison, but a better deal was on offer before this!  Republicans said no to that earlier deal because it wasn’t what republicanism is all about.

I can’t begin to understand how anybody who has been in this movement for all these years, and after all that has happened, can turn around and say, “right, we’re running with this new deal”.  I don’t understand.

In some ways, I could understand that a younger generation could accept this deal, but the current SF leadership were there thirty years ago when that other deal was on the table and they were part of the movement that rejected it.  I want to know what has changed to make this new deal acceptable.

CT: If the IRA and SF leaders had been honest and said, “We lost, but we can’t do better, this is the best we can get”, would that have been acceptable to you?

MP: 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 have 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.

If they had’ve done that it would have opened up a variety of avenues to them, they wouldn’t have been trapped in the cul-de-sac in which they’re now stuck.  If they had made that courageous declaration that the war was over because they couldn’t win it, I think that then we could have regrouped  and decided on what was the best way forward.  They didn’t then have to go in the British establishment and agree to help the British run the six counties.

Throughout history, republicans have never lacked the moral courage to admit when they couldn’t win and members and supporters have always stood by the movement when it made that courageous decision.  It happened in the 1940s and 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 take it from here?”  It could have gone ahead as a united movement.

Instead, certain individuals decided that the current path was going to be taken and to force the movement down that path no matter what.

CT: It was dishonest?

MP: I think there was a lot of dishonesty around the whole negotiations.  There were contacts being made between certain individuals in the Republican Movement with the British and this was done behind the backs of the rest of the Republican Movement who were under the impression the war was going to be fought to the bitter end.

I feel that the leadership decided where it was going and it has dragged the movement along yelling and screaming.  And if people were screaming too loudly, they were sidelined very quickly.

CT: Freedom of speech and expression are guaranteed by the Good Friday Agreement.  How do you see them in practice?

MP: 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.

CT: Is freedom of expression something important to republicans?

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

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

MP: I come from a very strongly 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 or wrong.  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 into 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 a decision to be a republican.  Luckily I found the answer in the republican Movement.

CT: When did you break with the Provisionals?

MP: 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 a while, 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 in this for us, now is the time to get out of this, this is just a cul-de-sac.”

CT: Were you threatened by the Provisionals?

MP: Yes, I was.  A member of the Provisionals visited my home to tell me that the fact I was expressing views that were critical of Sinn Fein was not tolerable and that I should better keep my mouth shut.

Those visits continued for quite a number of weeks, but I made 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 Sinn Fein and the IRA.

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

MP: Whatever you’ve given to the Republican Movement counts for nothing if you’re not a “Yes” person within the Provisionals 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 on the right path, I don’t understand why they won’t debate with others, be upfront about things and let us all put 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 they are right, why can’t we 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.

CT: Do you have any regrets?

MP: None.

CT: How do you view the future?

MP: Unfortunately, I see a long, hard struggle coming.  I know that when I joined 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 have proved me wrong.  But I hope that new republicans will feel as I did when I joined the 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.  And 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 of Ireland.

CT: Do you think that republican objectives can  be achieved by purely political means?

MP: I don’t know; I have to say that.  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.

CT: Short-term future?

MP: A lot of hard work.  We have a growing number of prisoners to be looked after.  We in the 32-County Sovereignty movement have a lot of hard work to do, to show that the core issue has not been addressed and that until it is nothing else will work.  The core issue remains the British presence in Ireland and until it is addressed, through a British declaration of intent to withdraw, the basic problem will remain.

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

MP: 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 what was the point of starting in the first place?

I do think that, as history proves, when so-called revolutionaries become the establishment, they become more establishment than the establishment ever was.

* Defenders were secret Catholic peasant societies which defended their local communities and exacted revenge on Protestant landowners in the 1700s and 1800s.

Posted on January 23, 2012, in Interviews, Irish politics today, Political education and theory, Provos - then and now, Republicanism 1960s, Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism, Women, Women in republican history. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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