Treatment of Irish prisoners

Richard Bos Richard.Bos at
Mon Oct 14 15:08:36 MDT 1996

The following letter, reprinted from this week's New Worker, is from Pat

 I am writing in order to detail one example of the British government's
vindictive attitude towards Irish republican prisoners in England.

 In November 1992, I applied to visit one such prisoner, Paul Magee, and
complied with all the conditions, such as agreeing to a visit from the
Special Branch and supplying photographs of myself.

 For no reason that I am aware of my application was denied, though the
official line was "for reasons of security".

 No appeal was allowed against this decision and when my MP made
enquiries on my behalf, he also came up against a brick wall.

 But that wasn't the end of the matter, because I was subsequently
persecuted by Special Branch activities, including visits and being
hauled in for questioning over the Warrington bombing.

 I also received threatening phone calls, one of which was traced by my
solicitor to a Liverpool police station canteen.

 The purpose of this type of activity -- all at the tax-payers' expense
-- is to isolate the prisoner from any contact outside his or her
immediate family.

 With few exceptions, the families of Irish political prisoners still
live in Ireland. But, as if this wasn't problem enough, the Home Office
policy is to add to the difficulties through "ghosting" [moving
prisoners at short notice without telling relatives, so they turn up to
visit at the wrong prison], strip-searching of visitors and the
imposition of closed visits.

 Paul Magee, not wishing to subject his wife and children to such
indignities, went on a blanket protest in November of last year.

I received a letter from him which had been hermetically sealed in
plastic by the prison authorities with a warning:"The letter enclosed in
this sealed bag is from Magee, B2 3783. This inmate has chosen to embark
on a Dirty Protest, If you decide to open this bag, you may risk
exposing yourself to a health hazard," signed by the governor.

 This tactic is clearly designed to frighten off those who wish to
maintain contact with the prisoner.

 And yet, it need not be like this. Transfer and repatriation are
provided for under the Council of Europe's Convention on the Transfer of
Sentenced Persons, to which both the London and Dublin governments are

 In addition, the British government first commissioned and then
accepted the conclusions of the Ferrers Report (1992), the central
thrust of which was that all prisoners should be transferred to prisons
near to their homes in order to make it easier for farnilies to visit.

 This recommendation was strengthened by the more recent Woolf Report,
which argued strongly for repatriation in all such cases.

 The statement by Home Secretary Michael Howard to the effect that Irish
political prisoners are treated no differently to other prisoners is
patently untrue.

 For example, Ian Thain and Lee Clegg -- two British soldiers convicted
of murdering Irish civilians -- and Brian Nelson, British agent and
murder conspirator, were all transferred before being given early

 By comparison the Irish republican prisoners are being treated as
political hostages by a malevolent British government.

 These are civil and human rights issues and nobody should be deterred
by the ending of the IRA cease-fire from campaigning for Irish
prisoners' rights.

 There will neverbe peace with justice if the sadistic antics of the
Home Office and prison authorities are allowed to prevail.

Yours sincerely,

 Pat McDonnell,

 Liverpool Phoenix, PO Box 110, Liverpool L69 8DP


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