Award-winning film-maker devoted to the Cuban cause

Irish Times Obituary, 20 July 2013

Bernie Dwyer, born: December 14th, 1943; died: July 10th, 2013

Bernie Dwyer, who has died aged 69, was the driving force behind the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, an award-winning documentary film-maker, and, in recent years, a campaigner on behalf of the Cuban Five who were imprisoned in the US on espionage charges.

Dwyer campaigned to have the five Cuban intelligence operatives freed on the grounds that they had not spied on the US, but infiltrated anti-Castro groups in Miami in order to combat acts of sabotage against Cuba.

She travelled the world, addressing audiences at showings of her film Mission against Terror to gather support for the campaign. She was awarded the Cuba medal of friendship in 2006 and received Cuba’s highest honour for journalism, the Felix Elmuza medal in 2008.

Born in 1943, she was the daughter of Arthur Hannon and his wife Mary (née Fagan), Galtymore Park, Drimnagh; the family later moved to Sutton, Co Dublin. She worked in a furniture store and pursued a modelling career before marrying David Dwyer in 1967. Having reared three daughters and a son she decided to broaden her horizons by becoming a mature student. In 1983 she began a degree in philosophy at Trinity College Dublin.

Two years earlier she had been working as a childcare worker with Women’s Aid, an experience that politicised her. She came to see the “raw deal” women who turned to Women’s Aid had earlier received. They were primarily defined by their personal relationships, and society determined that their place was beside a man. Never having felt dominated, she began to see that she was privileged.

Previously she had worked with children with a disability at St Ita’s, Portrane, but, having left school at an early age and having the “good feeling” about herself taken away by the nuns who taught her, the idea formed that she would like to go to university.

“I always did feel I had missed out on an education,” she told this newspaper in 1985. “I used to read things like Dr Zhivago, The Ginger Man and Catcher in the Rye with a wistful longing for a more structural way of approaching them.”

She decided she wanted a complete change of lifestyle. “I feel we have only one life to live and I really want to go through as many experiences as possible.” To that end she served as student union welfare officer at Trinity, was then elected deputy president of the union, served briefly on the executive committee of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and also worked part-time in Waterstones book shop in Dawson Street.

Legal action

In addition she joined Open Door Counselling, which offered non-directive help and support to women with unplanned pregnancies. When the service was closed down following legal action by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, she continued this work with the Open Line helpline.

After graduating she lectured in women’s studies at UCD, and was involved in adult education in Dublin’s inner city and elsewhere as part of the the university’s outreach programme.

In 1988 she travelled to Latin America as a member of an international solidarity brigade. She later played a major role in reviving the dormant Cuba Solidarity Campaign founded to oppose the US blockade of Cuba, foster economic and cultural relations between Ireland and Cuba and lobby for an Irish role to end the US-Cuba conflict.

In 1998 she accompanied leading Irish communist and Spanish civil war veteran Mick O’Riordan on an aid shipment to Cuba. Eleven years later she met the then minister for foreign affairs Mícheál Martin in Havana when he was the first Irish minister to visit Cuba.

By now living in Cuba, with Roberto Ruiz Rebo she made a series of film documentaries, including Che: The Irish Legacy (1999), Che in Ireland (2001) and The Footprints of Cecilia McPartland (2004), about the Irish mother of Cuban revolutionary Julio Antonio Mella. For several years she was the English-language newsreader on Cuban radio.

On visits to Ireland she stayed at her home in Howth and regularly spent holidays in Inishbofin, a place of many great friendships.

She enjoyed good company, delighted in the cut and thrust of debate and never lost her sense of humour.

She is survived by her husband, daughters Lisa-Anne, Juliana and Christina, son David and grandchildren