Belfast Telegraph

Marian Price: A staunch republican and thorn-in-side of Sinn Fein

By Suzanne Breen

Marian Price is the most high-profile republican woman to have emerged from the IRA's ranks. Most of her adult life has been spent in conflict with the State.

Once a highly committed member of the Provisional IRA and comrade of Gerry Adams, who she said was the commanding officer who sent her to bomb Britain, Price went on to oppose the IRA ceasefire and become a prominent Sinn Fein critic.

It was 40 years ago as a 19-year-old that Price first stood in the dock accused of the Old Bailey bombing. Along with her sister Dolours and Gerry Kelly, now a Sinn Fein politician, she was part of an IRA team which planted four bombs in London in 1973.

Some 200 people were injured. One man died of a heart attack. Price was arrested trying to fly home from Heathrow Airport and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Yesterday, she pleaded guilty to buying the mobile phone used by the Real IRA to claim responsibility for the 2009 murder of two soldiers at Antrim's Massereene Army base, and helping a masked man at a republican event encourage support for terrorism in 2011.

She will be sentenced next month, but sources predict that her poor physical and mental health – she has suffered from extreme depression – make a custodial sentence unlikely.

Price (59) comes from a staunch republican family in west Belfast.

Her father Albert was a prominent 1940s IRA man and her mother had been in Cumann na mBan.

Along with Dolours, who died in January, Price became a household name when she went on hunger strike in Brixton Prison as part of a campaign to be repatriated to Armagh jail. She was force-fed 400 times in six months.

Gravely ill with tuberculosis and anorexia, and weighing five stone, she was released on licence in 1980. Price married and had two daughters. She didn't return to politics until after the 1994 IRA ceasefire, which she believed was a "sell-out" of republicanism.

"I'm angry when I see so much has been sacrificed for so little," she said. "All those lives 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."

She expressed her views at a 'republican family meeting' in west Belfast. A senior IRA man later visited her home. "He told me what I was saying wasn't appreciated and he'd shot people for less."

In the late 1990s Price joined the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, the Real IRA's political wing. In 2011 after she held a speech for a Real IRA man to read in Londonderry, her licence was revoked and she was imprisoned in Maghaberry Prison in isolation, where I interviewed her.

Despite her hardline politics, she confounds the republican stereotype. In Maghaberry, she spent her days doing word puzzles in the staunchly British Daily Mail. Her favourite programmes were English period dramas Downton Abbey and The House Of Eliott.

She praised the female prison officers, nearly all from the unionist community. "Bar a few, they've been lovely," she said.

Her health deteriorated after a year in solitary confinement. She was transferred to Belfast City Hospital where she spent another year under armed guard until she was released in May. During detention, she resigned from the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and has no intention of becoming active in republican politics again.

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