Thanks to Maggie Beirne at the CAJ (Committee on the Administration of Justice) for encouraging me to contact Pádraigín Drinan, a human rights lawyer in Belfast who works for women, residents groups (residents of Catholic areas whose neighborhoods have been threatened by Orange Parades), and ethnic minorities. This incredible woman never sleeps. Here she discusses racism in NI, the Rosemary Nelson case, how the NI judicial system has failed rape victims, why the parading issue is a human rights issue, and much more.

Black and white photos on this page are reproduced from: Rosemary Nelson, the Life and Death of a Human Rights Defender, published by the Pat Finucane Centre, 1999

Interview with Pádraigín Drinan

PD: My name is Pádraigín Drinan. I am a solicitor practicing in Belfast. I work for myself, and my main interests in law are human rights law, including acting for ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland, acting for women’s groups, and acting for residents’ groups. I also am interested in prisoners’ law, but fortunately we have fewer prisoners at the moment.

MT: How did you get interested in law?

PD: I always remember being interested in law. I remember being in primary school when we were doing The Merchant of Venice, and I remember at that stage being interested in law. I then went to university and did law, but at that time I was idealistic, and I didn’t want to be practicing, because I thought it was corrupt, and I intended to be an academic lawyer. But when I graduated internment happened, and a lot of the people who had been involved in the Civil Rights Campaign with me were interned. And the only way I could do anything, to get to see them or visit them, was by starting to practice as a lawyer. So I began at the time of internment, which was in 1971.

MT: I remember you were telling a story when you walked into a lawyer’s office and you were dressed like a hippie...

PD: When I started, it was at the time of free love and hippiedom, and I had seen the man that I came to work for, Mr. Napier, at a Civil Rights meeting. And I walked in with bare feet with beads, and I said that I wanted to be a lawyer, and to give him credit he took me on, knowing nothing about me. And I’ve been here ever since.

MT: Were there any other people along the way that inspired you to do this kind of work? Did you know any lawyers when you were growing up?

Bloody Sunday mural, Derry

PD: I just had a basic belief that there should be justice, and that you should be able to do something about it. But no, I have nothing in my background that would have brought me here. When I started off I thought I would only be there for a short period of time. And that I was only there because I was interested in challenging internment. But internment went on for a lot of years. There were a lot of assaults that happened on prisoners, and there were a lot of assaults by members of the security forces on people, and I was doing civil actions arising out of that, and I never really managed to stop. There was Bloody Sunday, and I did the Widgery tribunal, and there were just various events over the years that were ongoing and kept me interested. And then in time, equal opportunities and women’s law became important, and then there were women’s groups. So I became interested in different human rights issues.

At the moment, the center of my work would be for residents’ groups. People seem to think that the parading issue only happens in July because that’s when it gets world attention. But in fact there are communities that live under threat throughout the year. The community in Portadown may not have had a parade on the 4th of July this year, but they have been threatened with a parade constantly since then. In fact, the last parade was on the Saturday before last. There is a constant threat that there will be one. So there is a society who are constantly waiting, and each week wondering if this is the week that they are going to be curfewed, kept in, assaulted, in order to allow a small group of Orange Men to be forced through their community. There are a lot of social issues that arise out of that, so I will continue to act for people in Portadown and continue to act for people on the Ormeau Road, who are still wiping up the situation from August when they were assaulted.

[For some basic background information about the issues surrounding the Orange Parades click here]

MT: Can you give a brief explanation of what happened in July and August for those people who may not be familiar with the situation?

PD: Lower Ormeau Road is an area of Belfast where there is a large population of Catholic and Nationalist people. The Upper Ormeau Road is half and half, but there is an Apprentice Boys hall, an Orange Hall on the Upper Ormeau Road. On the 14th of August, the Apprentice Boys were marching in Derry. Rather than getting on a bus and going on the bus to Derry, they insisted on marching down the road, through the Lower Ormeau Road to get on a bus to go back up the road to go to Derry to march. All they were doing was claiming their supremacy, their right to march through a community, to have the community curfewed, to have the community undermined, degraded, and humiliated, for no other reason than to show that they have the right to be supremacists, Just like the Ku Klux Klan might have wished to have marched through Black areas, so the Apprentice Boys and Orange Orders insist on marching through Catholic areas.

Mural, Derry

The Parades Commission gave the Apprentice Boys permission to march through the Lower Ormeau area, despite the objections of all the people who live there. When they came down, the people chose to sit peacefully on the road to say they objected. The RUC came in with shields, batons, and beat the people, row by row, one by one, batoned them off the road several hours before the Apprentice Boys were due. They did not give them the right to leave the road. They did not give them the right to move peacefully. They came in with shields and batons, and beat people. They particularly beat women. In my presence they said, "Get the bitches," in the belief that if they hit the women, the men might feel the need to fight back, but as a tactic it didn’t work. They beat the women and then they beat the men. And no one answered back.

On Garvaghy Road, it may be worse. The people on Garvaghy Road have already gone through that situation. They have sat on the road peacefully, they have been beaten off before, and they certainly don’t want that to happen again. Whether they will sit and be peaceful or whether they will object in other ways isn’t yet clear.

MT: So your work dealing with the residents groups is a part of human rights laws. Unfortunately, I don’t think the media represents the situation as having to do with human rights.

PD: It is certainly a human rights issue, in that these are people who want the right to live free in their community. They want to be able to live in their homes, go to their shops, have normal human lives, but they are put in constant fear by a small group of people who have the support of the state and who insist on intimidating, humiliating and degrading them and frightening them and harassing them and making them live in fear of constant domination by what is called the majority community, but in fact is probably not a huge number of people. Even in the Protestant community only a small percentage want to insist on this right. But David Trimble, who is the First Minister, is also an Orange Man, and he appears to be insisting on the rights of Orange Men to show their domination. Even though he is First Minister for Northern Ireland and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, he is insisting on the rights of the Portadown LOL [Loyal Orange Lodge] No. 1 to march down Garvaghy Road.

MT: What would it take to get the parades situation seen as a human rights issue?

March in support of Garvaghy Rd. Residents, Dublin, 1999

PD: Perhaps if people really understood that what it really is is a racist issue: there is one race, the descendants of the British race, who believe themselves to be superior to the Irish race, who are the native people who lived here first. It is a racist issue where they believe that they are superior to the natives that they overthrew a number of years ago. They still believe they are superior and they still believe in celebrating their superiority.

MT: I have been interviewing some other women about racism in Ireland, which seems like a growing problem.

PD: I couldn’t talk about it in general because I don’t know enough about Ireland, but I do know about here. One of the problems that we have that most people don’t appear to acknowledge or recognize is a problem with racism. We do have ethnic minorities, we have Chinese, we have Indians, we have Palestinians, and people here seem to think that they are not racist. But Black people and Chinese people and ethnic minorities are very badly discriminated against in Northern Ireland. They don’t find employment and they are treated with contempt in the streets. The professional people can not find employment. There is a huge problem with racism throughout the whole of our society. We have had Chinese people beaten to death and very little is done about it.

MT: Do you see a connection between the violence against Nationalists and against ethnic minorities?

PD: Yes, the attitude of superiority that exists. One of the problems for our ethnic minorities is that the assaults on them became greater after the cease-fires. People who may have previously been involved in sectarian attacks then turned their attacks onto our ethnic minorities.

MT: Margaret MacCurtain spoke about the connection between political violence and domestic violence in the North.

PD: I don’t agree with that. The British government was bringing in amendments to our domestic violence legislation to coincide with the release of prisoners. I thought it was a terrible insult to our prisoners, who are in for honorable and political reasons. And to assume that there was going to be an increase in domestic violence because of the release of prisoners ...well, I don’t think there was a connection. I haven’t found that there was a connection.

MT: And you’ve had a lot of experience probably working on cases involving violence against women...

PD: Yes, one of the other major areas of work that I do is work for women. I work for the rape crisis center. I work for various women’s groups. But the interesting thing is working for women is that there is not the normal sectarian divide that there is in Northern Ireland. The women that I work for come from right across the board, and in fact, a greater number of my women would be from the Protestant Loyalist community. They have no difficulty when they have problems coming to a solicitor that they might otherwise disagree with. But the interesting thing in working with women is that they are prepared to work with each other on women’s issues right across the board. And they do accept that the same issues affect them and they can work together much better than perhaps the rest of society can.

The problem is that they can work together provided that they do not talk about the main political issue. If that is left off the agenda, then they can work well on other issues. But they tend not to have meetings during July and August, in case the main political agenda will come into the work that they’re doing and affect it.

MT: And what are some of the major problems when someone’s taking a sexual assault or rape case here?

PD: The first problem is in dealing with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and getting them to recognize that offenses have taken place. And then if you get over the hurdle of getting the RUC to believe that there has been a rape and not just ordinary consentual sex, then it goes to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and that’s where I think the main problem lies at the very moment.

The DPP, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who must make the decisions in Northern Ireland, appear to me to be terribly unwilling to do anything. They will find virtually any reason not to prosecute. They will either say that the woman is very clever and nobody will believe that she could have been taken in by a man who raped her, or they will find that she is stupid and she will not convince a jury. Or they will find that the man is too old and it will affect his life, or too young and it will affect him before he starts out. There will always be some reason why there will not and cannot be a prosecution. A very small percentage of rapes results in any prosecution. And if there is a prosecution, it is not for the proper offense, it is for a lesser offense like "Assault Causing Actual Bodily Harm". Then when that happens the penalty is lowered. So there can be a rape which ends up with a suspended sentence.

There was an example just today of two brave women who did go all the way to court and who did have the man prosecuted, and although he was convicted of 15 charges, and although the penalty could have been life, he ended up getting three years in jail, which means he will serve one and a half. He’s already spent one in custody, so those women know that in six months, that man, who had committed previous offenses of violence, will be out to threaten them again. So if that happens to women who are brave enough to come forward, it’s sending out the wrong messages.

[Read more about rape in NI, and the need to overhaul how the crime of rape is tried]

MT: We were talking before we started rolling about how all of your work may seem like it’s on different, unrelated issues, but it’s actually very related in many ways.

PD: Yes. Do you want me to try my theory -- my off the wall theory? One of the things that I discovered in both acting for women’s groups and in acting for residents’ groups was that there appears to be a similarity between the reaction of a community that has had a parade go through it and a woman who has been raped. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of rape obviously. A rape victim suffers much greater trauma than a community. But a number of years back, I myself was subjected to a parade coming to my own house, coming to my door and trapping me in, so that I believed that I was going to die. And after it happened and I survived it, I began monitoring my own reactions. I discovered to my surprise that my own reactions were similar to Post-Traumatic Rape Syndrome, rather than Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. My first reaction was: "What did I expect living in this area? Wasn’t it my own fault for being there? Didn’t I realize there was trouble and what was I doing in the house anyway?" When people would say they were sorry I’d say: "What did I expect?" I totally blamed myself.

People who are raped say: "I shouldn’t have invited him in," or "I shouldn’t have been on that road," or whatever it is. In Post-Traumatic Rape Syndrome, the first reaction is self-blame. I began looking at people in communities and found that communities were reacting in the same way.

MT: Making the link to the people living on the Lower Ormeau Road or the Garvaghy Road, would they have that attitude that--

RUC, Garvaghy Rd.

PD: Yeah, it always is: "Should we have negotiated? Should we have let them down [the road]? Should we not have let them down?" If they haven’t let them down, and people are beaten up, then it’s, "We should have let them down." If they have let them down and there’s trouble, then, "We shouldn’t have entered into talks." It’s always the fault of the victim, and the whole community goes round questioning itself. So it is a communal Post-Traumatic Rape Syndrome.

When I thought about it I realized that the reason for this is that when a parade comes through your community without consent, it is similar to a woman having sex without consent. She will have a bad reaction and suffer Post-Traumatic Rape Syndrome. If a parade goes through an area and people want it, it is like consensual sex, it can be like a carnival. It can be like a great day out. And a lot of people don’t understand why people object to parades when there’s bands and marching people. But the difference is that when there is consent, then it is something that people want and they can celebrate and be happy and that’s fine. But if there is no consent and if it is a power thing and is showing dominance, like rape is, and like parades are in areas where they’re not wanted, then the effect on the area is similar to Post-Traumatic Rape Syndrome. When you think about it, it is actually terribly logical. And when I said it to a rape psychiatrist, he said yes, that’s the reaction people are having. And he said that he probably could get a report that backed that up but that the psychiatrist that produced the report would never work again.

A lot of people say: "It’s only 7 minutes." Just like a rape can be 3 minutes and, "What’s the problem?" That appears to be the line that is put out by the British government: "What is the problem? It’s only 7 and a half minutes." And people say, "Well, okay you were raped, so it was very quick, what’s the problem?" But it affects people for life.

Anyway it is a way of explaining it to people who aren’t from here why it is so unacceptable. And it links up my women’s issues with my parades issues. I have found that when I brought that theory into Loyalist areas, people could understand it.

MT: So when are you going to write the book?

PD: I asked the Irish government, would they fund a survey into it? And they said it sounded interesting and they might, because in Article 11 of the European Convention, one of the exclusions for the right to Free Assembly and to March is the health of the host community.

MT: You said something when we met before about how it was kind of ironic that you ended up being labeled as a Nationalist lawyer. Do you want to explain that a bit?

Republican mural, Belfast

PD: At the start, when I began thinking, by choice, I became a Republican, even at times when it was unlawful to be a member of a Republican club. I was a Republican by choice. I always said that the views that I held were not because of my background and not because of my religion. I did not hold the views because I was a Catholic or a Nationalist. I held the views because I believed in human rights and was a Republican. Now I find that I am continually being classed as a Nationalist lawyer and a lawyer for Nationalist and Catholic causes and on behalf of Nationalist and Catholic people. And this may be the case, but it is the case because these are the people who are having their rights trampled upon. These are the people who are requiring defense. The reason I am doing it is not because I am Catholic or Nationalist, but because I am a human rights lawyer and a Republican.

MT: Maybe this is a good place to get into the Rosemary Nelson case. Do you think that would have been the case for her, too?

PD: I think very definitely it was. I did know Rosemary fairly well for the two years before she died. And Rosemary, strange to say, although she was working in a different town and although I didn’t know her until a couple of years before she died, we found that we were doing virtually the same work. We both were doing work for ethnic minorities. We both were doing work for women. We both were doing work for residents’ groups. And it seems that maybe having the same outlook attracted the same client base in different towns.

MT: And yet as you pointed out she will probably only be written into history because of her work on sectarian issues.

PD: That’s right. Rosemary acted for the Vietnamese community in Lurgan. She acted for women’s groups. She acted for Irish language groups. She was involved in Irish language schools, as I am. She was involved in a lot of other issues, and she did ordinary day to day accidents, traffic accidents, people who fell in the streets, problems at schools. She was the mother of three children. I don’t know how she did everything she did in her life, because not only did she do ordinary everyday work, but she was involved with her local school, she was on the Board of Governors. As well as that, she not only went to work all day, went to meetings in the evening, but she managed to party all night as well and still rear a family. I don’t know how Rosemary did what she did. And the one thing that everyone said after she died was that she always seemed to have time for them. Rosemary seemed to have achieved so much and to have made everybody think that they were important and made everyone think that their rights were important. And when I knew Rosemary, Rosemary at the end was just as upset at the loss of human rights as she had been when she started. She got just as affected at the end by the treatment of the community in Portadown and by what was happening to the people.

MT: Pretend for a minute you’re speaking to an American audience who knows nothing about her death.

PD: Rosemary Nelson was a solicitor who lived and practiced in Lurgan, near Portadown, in Northern Ireland. Rosemary was a solicitor to the Garvaghy Road residents’ coalition. She also was a solicitor who acted for the families of a number of people who were murdered and where has always been suspicion that security forces or people colluding with the security forces may have been involved in the deaths. Rosemary noticed things, for example in the case of Sam Marshall. He was killed coming out of a police station where he had signed bail, when no one but security forces and his family would have known. Rosemary was involved in a number of cases referred to in Sean McPhilemy’s book, The Committee. Rosemary, because she acted for her clients, she did investigate in detail what had happened to people who had died, and wasn’t prepared just to accept that perhaps Loyalists had done it. Rosemary was interested in seeing if perhaps there was security force collusion in these deaths. So she was involved in an area of work that would have been dangerous for her.

She was also the solicitor for Garvaghy Road. It was important for Garvaghy Road to have a solicitor who would be with them, because they are a community under pressure; they are pressurized by the British government, by people in the Irish government, and by many other political forces to allow the Orange Order to march through the community. Because Rosemary was there and was firm, and because Rosemary would not stop acting, it was virtually inevitable that Rosemary would die.

Rosemary had three children. Fortunately two of them went on a skiing holiday in March. The third one had already gone to school. Rosemary was driving to work on her own when a bomb exploded in her car, killing her. It was claimed at the time that it was the work of a small Loyalist organization. However, that organization, both before and since, have done nothing but throw fairly inefficient pipe bombs. They managed on one occasion, the occasion when Rosemary died, to have placed a very sophisticated explosive device in the car, which was activated when she braked some distance from her house. They immediately claimed the killing of Rosemary, but it is not believed by the people in the area where Rosemary lives or by anyone who knows anything about it that they were involved. It is believed by people that the security forces, who were frightened by what Rosemary said and by the courage of Rosemary, may somehow have been involved in her death, which is why it is very important that we should have an inquiry into her death.

It is 6 months since Rosemary died [now three years]. No one has been arrested. Rosemary had been threatened by members of the RUC on a number of occasions. Rosemary had complained. The Independent Commission for Police Complaints found that the RUC was incapable of investigating her complaints, and yet the RUC are supposed to investigate the death that occurred following the failure of the complaints. The complaints were regularly made by Rosemary. They were sent by American authorities to the Chief Constable, who denied having any intelligence of them, even though the information had been given to him. The complaints had been given by the Independent Commission of Police Complaints, and yet the RUC, instead of investigating, made comments on Rosemary’s personal morals, made jokes about Rosemary, wouldn’t take any complaints seriously, would not deal with it properly. And they are charged with investigating her death, the very same people who constantly threatened her, constantly frightened her, constantly gave her a difficult time. In fact, in the days after her death, in my presence, the RUC were making jokes about the death of Rosemary. They were throwing dolls with no legs, and saying: "Where’s Rosemary now?" They were making comments about, "Did you hear about Rosemary? Did you hear she was on a drunken driving charge? She was legless when we got her." Members of the RUC were making to members of the public comments to that effect.

In the days before she died, Rosemary had complained to me that when she tried to leave the Garvaghy Road area, she had two barriers to get through. One was the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the next was the Loyalists who had the town sealed off for almost a year. Rosemary told me that when she reached the RUC they would stop the car to call the Loyalists and say, "Here she comes now lads," and would allow them to get the chance to attack her before they would allow her through. She was very frightened by that and she told me of that just in days before her death. And then in the days after that, I myself experienced the exact same situation with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, so I knew then the fear and terror that they had put her into. So, she was constantly in fear from the RUC because she was an effective lawyer, she was an effective human rights lawyer. And then after that she died, and the RUC have investigated it, and have not found anything. We have not heard whether or not any of the people who were involved in threatening her are involved in the investigation. We have not heard of anyone ever having been prosecuted for any of the threats that the RUC made to her. Nothing has happened since she died.

[Click here to read about suspect in Nelson case, arrested in the US]

MT: What about the attempts to get an independent inquiry?

Rosemary Nelson

PD: We were almost more fortunate than most other events, most other deaths, in that as soon as Rosemary died, because she was a lawyer, there were many lawyers about. And we knew that it was very important that we should get two separate things. One was an independent investigation into the murder and the other was an independent inquiry into the background situation that caused her to be murdered. We immediately on the day of her death began to call for that, so that there could be an independent investigation while the evidence was still available, but we have failed to get either. It has been more than six months and as yet, there has neither been an independent investigation nor an independent inquiry.

MT: Do you think that will ever happen?

PD: We are still hoping, we are still looking for the same thing for Pat Finucane, who was another lawyer who died ten years ago. We hope we will be successful. It is going to be much more difficult with the independent investigation because obviously the on the ground evidence is not as easily examined, and the statements that should have been taken at the time were not. We would still need an independent inquiry into the circumstances that led to her death, the demonizing of her, the comments made about her, the posters that were put up in the town, and the things that were put up on the internet. All of that should be investigated and there should be an inquiry into the situation that arose and that allowed Rosemary to be killed, by whoever did it.

There were posters... Rosemary was born with a birthmark, and the posters claimed that she was a bomber and had blown herself up previously, and that this was the mark left on her. They claimed that she was an IRA person. There were posters at the time that claimed that she had sexual relations with her clients. This was very offensive to Rosemary. I knew Rosemary, and she was such a strong person that I understood that she dealt with her physical disability perfectly well. I did not know until she died how terribly hurt she was. The RUC even in reports to the Independent Commission for Police Complaints would make comments about her deformity. She was called, "Half a face." And I thought she coped with it. I suppose it’s obvious, but I didn’t know how much she was hurt. The fact that I knew her well and didn’t know shows that she was so strong.

MT: Do you ever get to the point in this line of work that you feel so scared that you think about quitting?

PD: No. Have there been threats to me? Yes, I’ve had the house set on fire, not a fire but an attempted murder, quite a complicated fire in the house. I’ve had the car booby-trapped. I have had many threats over the years. The Saturday before last, when I was acting for Garvaghy Road when the parade went through, the RUC went out of their way to make sure they photographed me separately, on my own, and walked around taking photographs of me. I know in the past that photographs from the security forces have ended up in the hands of Loyalists and this is not something that just happened in the past, but it is happening to me now. And I am continuously receiving threats, not huge threats, but it has been made clear to me that I too am at risk.

MT: But that doesn’t make you want to stop at all?

March in support of Garvaghy Rd. Residents, Dublin, 1999

PD: No, the reverse. The reasons I believe that Rosemary died was that she was prepared to say that the evidence in The Committee was, as far as she was aware, true. The fact that she was prepared to say that openly I think, led to her death. And I think that we have to continue to say that all those unsolved murders where there is an element of collusion and where the security forces may have been involved, all of those must be examined. There is no point in saying, "We have the Patten Commission," and, "We have the new police force." We must look at those members of the security forces who killed people and who killed them as members of the security forces, where nothing has happened.

MT: Do you think there’s any point in putting these threats on record?

PD: The RUC claimed that they don’t get them. And Ronnie Flanagan [Chief Constable of the RUC] said openly on television any number of times that he had no intelligence. But Ronnie Flanagan apparently differentiates between intelligence and information. If information is given to him, he doesn’t have it. Intelligence is something that comes through his officers. And unless it comes to him directly from his officers, he doesn’t accept it. I wouldn’t have any faith in giving it to the RUC. I think I probably should be more careful in documenting these things for other human rights bodies. And I am beginning to do that.

I had understood that Rosemary Nelson had not applied for protection, and after her death, my clients encouraged me to apply. When I did so, I learned that Rosemary wouldn’t have gotten it anyhow. In fact, she had applied and had been refused. Neither of us got it, because there is a belief with the authorities in Northern Ireland that our deaths or serious injury would not affect the administration of justice, the maintenance of law and order, or the affect of government in Northern Ireland. Therefore we were not entitled to protection. It’s actually, amusing’s not the word, but when you get a letter telling you that your death or serious injury won’t have any great effect, it’s quite… I don’t know how you describe that, when you get a letter that says, "That’s all right, you can die. It will not affect law and order, good government, or anything else, so go ahead. We will not protect you." It’s funny.

Rosemary had had threats, and she had asked for protection. She particularly had asked at a meeting with Tony Blair, [Britain’s] Prime Minister. Her security was raised at the meeting. Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff, was to raise the matter with the Chief Constable. It was to be looked into. That was in the January before she died in the March. It had been made very clear, from Tony Blair down, that Rosemary was at risk and that her life was in danger. And yet nothing was done to protect her. She was refused protection.

I don’t know. I think it’s more important since Rosemary died that people like me should go on, because if she dies and part of the movement dies and it stops, they’ve won. So the more it happens, the more there will have to be people coming and saying the same things.

MT: Do you ever rest, do you ever stop and take a break?

PD: No. On Sunday I nearly cracked up because a meeting fell through and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt very sorry for myself. I had time to stop and think about it. So, I decided that rest was not a good idea.

MT: The last couple of questions are ones I’m asking all the women I’m interviewing. Do you have any particular heroines?

PD: Heroines. There would be three that I would choose. One would be a nun in London called Sister Sarah Clarke. Sister Sarah in the 1960s began to visit young Irish prisoners in London. She then discovered the discrimination there against Irish communities. She had not been political at all. She went in as Christian to visit those in prison. She has spent the last thirty something years of her life on her own working for the Guilford Four, the Birmingham Six. She is now in her eighties. She has said that she will not come home to Ireland until the last prisoner is free. There have been three recently convicted, and Sister Sarah still fights on, works on. She is not just a humble little nun who brings food parcels. She fights their issues, she took in families when the Prevention of Terrorism Act made most people too frightened to. She has been banned from prisons by the authorities. An 86 year old nun is such a risk to the security that she is not allowed into prisons. And she continues to look after the interests of prisoners and their families, and will do for as long as she lives. She is blind, she has been ill, she lives on her own, and she stills fights on.

The second two would be associated. One would be Doreen Lawrence, who is the mother of Steven Lawrence, and the other is Diane Hammill. Both of them are ordinary people who would not be involved in [political] issues. Doreen Lawrence’s son Steven was stabbed. He was a Black teenager in London and was stabbed to death by white racists. And Doreen Lawrence refused to let it drop and fought on and on, despite the fact that she failed in prosecutions, despite failure along the line. She kept fighting till everyone knew that her son Steven had been killed in a racist attack. And as a result there was the Lawrence report and there are to be amendments in the legislation.

Diane Hammill’s brother Robert was kicked to death in Portadown because he was a Catholic. He was kicked to death in the presence of the RUC. The RUC had been warned that Catholics were coming and that they would be attacked. They moved their vehicle so they wouldn’t see what happened. Robert Hammill was kicked to death within feet of a vehicle of RUC policeman who chatted to Loyalists as their friends killed him. Just in the last week, it has been said that no RUC would be prosecuted as a result of Robert Hammill’s death. Diane Hammill will be continuing to fight until there is an inquiry into Robert’s death, until something is done. So because of the deaths of members of their families, Doreen Lawrence and Diane Hammill have fought and continue to fight and have had changes made in society, so they would be my heroines.

MT: You don’t often hear about heroines still living. I’m also asking everyone about their name.

PD: Yes, my name Pádraigín is the Irish for Patricia. It is the female of Pádraig, which is the Irish for Patrick. It means literally little Pádraig, just as Máirín is little Máire.

MT: Do you know why you were named that?

PD: I was born on St. Patrick’s Day. Very simple.

MT: I’m the 19th, St. Joseph’s Day.

PD: Oh right. Josephine.

MT: One last question... when we talked before you were telling me this story. Someone had asked you: how had the troubles affected you... Could you relate a bit of that?

PD: Yes, an American visited me a number of years ago. In the period that he stayed with me, an 11-day period, the office was blown up, a train was blown up beside the house, a window of the house was broken, and my car was hit by a rocket that was fired at a police station. All in the 11-day period. He didn’t understand how I survived and asked me how the troubles had affected me. And I answered then, and I still think it is a proper answer, "I don’t know that they have." I think I am who I always would have been. But as I have never lived through anything else, I don’t know that the troubles have affected me. I know nothing different.

I felt sorry for him. He thought he was coming to stay with a middle class lawyer. He couldn’t believe it. And I normally don’t have three bombs in eleven days, it just happened. The cracks are still there -- it was in that building there [points to building across the street]. It was one of the biggest ever bombs went off. They asked for keyholders. So I came down and got trapped and had to sit under the door thing for a couple of hours while they took care of the other bombs. Thank God. The next day I think the train was blown up, and the window in the bedroom he was staying in was blown out. And then I offered him a lift home and the car was hit with a rocket.

MT: Another thing you mentioned last time was that you don't consider yourself political.

PD: I am considered very bad at politics, and very bad about what is going to happen, and very bad at the future. I just don’t know. Obviously, what I do is affected by the political situation, but I don’t consider myself a good politician. I really do genuinely work as a human rights lawyer. I look at what I think is wrong and try to do something about it, but I don’t have a long-term plan.

Women in NI:



Violence Against Women:

  • Rita Fagan & Anita Kopenhofer
  • Lorna & Finola
  • Margaret MacCurtain
  • Caroline Rowan
  • Related resources:

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