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Prison shut on day of Higgins' visit to activist

SABINA Higgins, the wife of President Michael D Higgins, visited a peace activist in prison on a day when the jail was closed to visitors.

Aras an Uachtarain has said that Mrs Higgins' visit to Margaretta D'Arcy (79) in Limerick Prison on Sunday was undertaken in a private capacity.

Speaking in Dublin this morning, President Higgins said his wife was simply visiting a friend.

"Sabina was visiting a friend of long-standing whose health is frail and who was a fellow artist.

JUDGMENT

"SABINA IS A PERSON WHO CAN SPEAK FOR HERSELF AS WELL AND IS A PERSON OF VERY GOOD JUDGMENT. WE DO A LOT OF THINGS TOGETHER BUT WE DO A LOT OF OTHER THINGS AS WELL," HE SAID.

D'Arcy received a three-month suspended sentence last month for illegal incursion of the runway at Shannon airport on October 7, 2012 during a protest over US military use.

The sentence was activated last week, when she refused to sign the bond and she was escorted from her Galway home to Limerick.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore this morning described the visit as appropriate.

"I think it is. I know Margaretta D'Arcy," he said. "She is an activist all her life.

"I hope her legal team are working on her behalf to ensure that she is released from prison as soon as possible."

Limerick Prison is not open to visitors on Sundays, when Mrs Higgins attended.

However, the Herald understands that governors of Irish prisons can individually decide when a visit outside of normal hours is permissible.

D'Arcy is locked up in a cell on her own in the E2 wing of the Mulgrave Street prison. She is allowed out of her cell several times a day and can avail of gym, educational and computer facilities.

Both women have been friends in Galway for many years, and President Higgins spoke at the funeral of D'Arcy's husband, playwright John Arden.

D'Arcy's son, Finn Arden, and two peace activists, Cmdt Edward Horgan of Shannonwatch and Niall Farrell of the Galway Alliance Against War (GAAW), visited the prison yesterday.

They said she had raised serious concerns about conditions within the high security female section of Limerick prison.

They said in a statement issued by the GAAW that D'Arcy will only sign a bond to keep the peace if there is no direct reference to Shannon Airport.

"She argues that criminal acts are being committed at Shannon on a daily basis through the presence of a US military hub there, which is deeply involved in waging war in foreign countries that continues to result in the deaths of many innocent people," the statement said.

"To sign such a document not to break the law that refers to Shannon Airport, where acts of unfathomable criminality are being perpetrated, would be an absurd contradiction," it said.

Some 240 artists have called for D'Arcy's release, as has former UN assistant secretary-general Denis Halliday.

hnews@herald.ie


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