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                                   Searc's Web Guide to 20th Century Ireland - Margaretta D'Arcy (born 1934)

Margaretta D'Arcy was born in London of a Russian mother and Irish father. She was educated in Dublin where, in 1949, she began working in the Pike Theatre. In 1953 she moved to London where she joined the Committee of 100, a group of artists and writers who wanted to influence politics through their art. In 1968 D'Arcy, together with her husband, the writer John Arden, moved to Ireland where she joined the Civil Rights movement in Galway. In 1969 she and her family travelled to India where they were briefly imprisoned in Assam for performing agitprop theatre. In 1970 they returned to Ireland and D'arcy and Arden established a theatre and newspaper in Galway. She also joined Official Sinn Féin and the Society of Irish Playwrights. In 1972 D'Arcy was expelled from Official Sinn Féin over political differences. In 1975 D'Arcy and Arden's play The Non-Stop Connolly Show toured Ireland and in 1976 they co-founded the Galway Theatre Workshop which produced several plays, including Pinprick of History.
In 1978 D'Arcy was arrested and imprisoned for three weeks in Armagh Gaol for protesting at the banning of a H-Block march. In 1979 she, together with eleven other women from Women Against Imperialism, were arrested on International Woman's Day outside Armagh Gaol for protesting about the inhumane conditions in which women republicans were imprisoned. D'Arcy refused to pay her fine and on May 14th, 1980 she was imprisoned for three months in Armagh Gaol where she joined the republican women in their No-Wash and Dirty protests for political status. The extract below is from D'Arcy's Tell Them Everything (1981).©

Margaretta D'Arcy
Margaretta D'Arcy
The British policy in the North of Ireland has shown constant inconsistency. All the parties inside the 32 counties have done some form of turnabout. The only stance the young prisoners can take is one of resistance to a series of illogical and arbitary moves. Have the Loyalists had this consistency? No, they have floundered about, confused, sometimes proclaiming loudly that they too are POWS: in 1972 a 35-day hunger strike led by republicans (including six women in Armagh), and later joined by a few loyalists, succeeded in achieving political status.
But now the loyalists come on and off the blanket like jumping-jacks. Since 1976 there have been many re-alignments and reversals in Irish political life in relation to the National Question - some of them traumatic; but inside the jails the republicans have been constant, their aims absolutely fixed. Present propaganda notwithstanding, the IRA were very slow to publish what was happening in the jails.
When political status was removed there was sporadic rioting outside. But that soon died down and the people outside seemed to have forgotten (this was a period of internal splits and fratricide within the Republican Movement and the parties supporting it), but inside, in particular inside Armagh, there was little change.
So why is it so important for the British Government to get the political prisoners to accept criminalisation? The whole episode is absurd. If you accept the special circumstances of arrest, special law, torture, no jury, and then accept criminal status, as a criminal you are treated better than any other kind of criminal in the United Kingdom. You then become an 'ordinary decent criminal' even though the crimes you have committed are exactly the same as those of the evil 'subhuman animals' who are on the no-wash protest.
You get 50 per cent remission (in the rest of the UK it is only a third) and the jails are not crowded. The work in the women's jail [for non-political prisoners] is minimal. They go to the workshop at 8.30, the radio plays constantly, they do a little bit of sewing, talk and smoke cigarettes, then go to classes. But out of 40 republican women prisoners only eight accepted criminal status (and that for personal reasons). The Republican Movement has always maintained that it fights in the name of the people; the British Government has always maintained that there is no support for the Republican Movement; and it tries to use the show-down with the prisoners to prove this.
The prisoners are not trained revolutionaries in the conventional sense; there is no way that the republicans can punish them inside the jails for coming off the protest. So from whence comes the strength, this obstinacy, this certainty that they are right, and that the British government has got itself into a corner that it cannot get out of? The prisoners have done everything in their power to show that in the end their adversaries will destroy themselves. The setting up of the National H Block/Armagh Committee with the five demands, and its repeated defusing of the situation so that Britain can get off the hook without loosing face, has not prevented the government from blundering on. The steadfastness of the prisoners for their rights to be treated as political prisoners has only been reinforced by the pig-headedness of the British government's policy: 'Surrender or die'. To the outside world with its ever-accommodative array of political parties and attitudes, such steadfastness appears unutterably stupid, while the pig-headedness of weakening imperialism seems so strong that all one can do is compromise with it.
Unable to defeat the IRA outside, the British government has turned the jails into the last ditch of the war. The have failed to get the people in nationalist ghettos to surrender the IRA. The reason is obvious. No political guarantees have ever been given to the nationalists. Yes, the nationalists accept the state's handouts but they don't believe in them as their right; they see them as an accident of history. They cannot finally be bought off with cash, especially now that there is no cash for them nor for anyone else in the North of Ireland. So the hope that sustains the prisoners is not an illusion. If they give up, where do they go? Back to the ghettos and the labour exchange. They of course don't think in those terms and in a way they don't have too: that is for us outside. © Pluto Press. For more information see Margaretta D'Arcy's own website.

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