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Friday 19 September 2014

Whistleblowers suffered more than me – activist Margaretta D'Arcy

Clodagh Sheehy

Published 23/03/2014 | 02:30

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Peace activist Margaretta D'Arcy is released from prison. 
Photo: Tony Gavin
Peace activist Margaretta D'Arcy is released from prison. Photo: Tony Gavin

Defiant activist Margaretta D'Arcy, 79, who was released from prison yesterday, said the garda whistleblowers had "suffered infinitely more" than she had during her nine-and-a-half weeks in jail.

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"They have been slandered, abused and had their careers ruined," she said.

Ms D'Arcy had been serving a three-month sentence between Limerick Prison and the Dochas Women's prison in Mountjoy in Dublin, related to her protest against US military planes using Shannon Airport.

Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, she insisted her protest was not over. She is due in court again for trial on June 25 and she said she intends to use the occasion to highlight "the colonising of our airport for illegal and immoral purposes".

She said her presence with Niall Farrell on the runway at Shannon had drawn support, with letters from all over the world.

When she went into prison first, other prisoners and the prison officers were not particularly on her side "but over time that changed completely around".

The worst thing about Limerick Prison, she said, was "sensory deprivation". Apart from a narrow outdoor corridor which could be crossed in 30 seconds, "You never see grass, the sky, the moon or the stars."

In the Dochas prison she was "horrified" by the contrast between the "wonderful facilities" and the stress brought about by the shortage of prison officers. She gave the example of women queueing before five different doors to get to education classes, with long waits until officers became available.

Classes often had to be cancelled or the shop remained shut because of the shortage of staff and this led to "mounting tension" and anger against the prison officers, who in turn "feel it's not their fault. It's a really, really serious problem".

Despite suffering from cancer, Ms D'Arcy dismissed any questions about her health, remarking: "When you are old it makes no difference." She is being admitted to hospital in Galway tomorrow for treatment for her condition.

The Aosdana member also refused to be drawn into any controversy over President Michael D Higgins's wife Sabina's visit to Limerick Prison to see her.

"That was very much on a private basis," she stressed.

The veteran activist was imprisoned in mid-January for refusing to sign a bail bond to uphold the law and keep away from unauthorised zones at Shannon Airport. She had previously been given a suspended sentence for illegal incursion of the runway on October 7, 2012.

Despite an appeal to Justice Minister Alan Shatter by former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, the minister would not offer her early release from prison on compassionate grounds.

Sunday Independent

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