I spoke to Independent TD, Maureen O’Sullivan. (TD signifies in Irish Teachta Dála, Member of Parliament) outside Leinster House, the site of the Irish Parliament in Dublin on a beautiful September day while on a recent visit to Ireland. Maureen has shown a lot of interest in the case of the Cuban Five since her election to the Irish parliament in 2009 and keeps herself up-to-date on the matter. (In Ireland the Cuban Five campaign works under the title of the Miami Five).
“I do think it’s a matter of social justice that these men have been deprived of their freedom and even more horrifically that their wives, their mothers, their families have not had the same access to them as prisoners in Ireland would have with visits from family and friends”.
Bernie Dwyer (BD): What interests me, Maureen, is what relevance has the case of the Cuban Five for an Irish TD?
Maureen O’Sullivan (MO’S): I think it comes into the area of social justice and as a member of parliament in any country, one comes across a lot of issues which have social justice at the heart of it them. I inherited this particular issue from my predecessor the late Tony Gregory who was very involved in support for the Miami Five. So that was my initial interest and then I continued with that because I do think it’s a matter of social justice that these men have been deprived of their freedom and even more horrifically that their wives, their mothers, their families have not had the same access to them as prisoners in Ireland would have with visits from family and friends.
BD: Is there anything about this case which reminds you of some of Irish political prisoners that were held in the U.K?
MO’S: Obviously there would be parallels with the cases of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, etc., and how difficult the authorities made it for their families instead of being able to facilitate their families going to visit them, obviously families coming from Ireland to England. Equally they could arrive and not be able to see them and their access could be curtailed which I understand is what is happening with the relatives of the Miami Five.
BD: What real support do you think you can give them as a member of the Irish Parliament?
MO’S: I must say that I am disappointed with the level of support that can be given because I feel that this is something that has been going on for far too long and it doesn’t appear that there has been any progress. I think that it was in the last Dáil (parliament) that I took on as a female member of parliament the postcard campaign that was going to Michele Obama and I certainly publicized that within the Dáil and with the group that support me who are activists working in community projects, teachers, etc., and a good number of postcards went and I was really disappointed when I asked the Cuban ambassador here recently, if that had achieved anything and it hadn’t and that was a particular disappointment.
BD: One of the Cuban Five, Rene Gonzalez, who received the shortest sentence of 15 years is due for release on the 7th October. As part of his sentence he got three years probation and his lawyer asked that he be returned immediately to Cuba as his wife hasn’t managed to get a visa to go to visit him. But the court has returned a negative and said that he has to do his three years there. Do you feel that we can do anything at all about that from this side of the Atlantic?
MO’S: I hope that maybe through the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I’m a member or through representations to our Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister), Eamon Gilmore who is also the Irish minister for Foreign Affairs, that he could perhaps make representation to the US authorities. I would also be prepared to write to the American ambassador here and see if he could do anything from a humane point of view. At least the authorities in Britain have facilitated things like that where a person could come back to Ireland and finish their sentence.
BD: We also have the case of Gerardo Hernandez who is serving two life sentences plus fifteen years. Do you think that we could bring some light onto that and get people outraged about his sentence?
MO’S: It’s very sad that there isn’t more of a sense of outrage when you read about things like this and maybe there is a sense that they are so far removed from where we on this little island but I do think that we have a reputation particularly in areas of justice and humanitarian aid is very generous. I just think it needs to be taken on by somebody or some cross party group who will see this for the injustice that it is.
BD: Would you like to send a message to the Cuban Five and their families?
MO’S: I cannot imagine what it’s like to be incarcerated for 15 years and not to have visits from loved ones. Particularly when it’s over an issue where you were trying to do what was right and what was just. So I can’t imagine but I think that the fact that there are five of them and their own solidarity and their belief in the principles by which they did those actions is probably what is sustaining but their families must also be extremely strong with the support they are giving them.
This interview was broadcast by Radio Havana Cuba on the 6th October 2011