JAIL PROTEST THREAT
Republican prisoners at Portlaoise Prison are planning to begin
a 'dirty protest' for political status within the next two
weeks. Meanwhile, protest plans are underway at Maghaberry jail
in the North following a reported sexual assault.
The Portlaoise prisoners' dispute with Dublin's Department of
Justice escalated last week when a 23- hour lockdown was
imposed. Prisoners were reported to have been locked in their
cells for the morning and denied food last week, then were
verbally and physically assaulted by the prison guards on their
release in the afternoon. One male prisoner was also said to
have been so brutally strip-searched and verbally taunted that
he is seeking counselling for sexual assault.
The latest incident has followed complaints that mail has been
withheld and family members abused at visting times.
In the jail in the Irish midlands, republican prisoners
lost all privileges for a month as punishment for staging a
protest over the treatment of 'Real IRA' leader Michael
Tensions have been high in the prison since McKevitt, who is
serving a 20-year term at the jail in controversial
circumstances, chose not to attend his mother's funeral after he
was required to attned handcuffed and under an armed escort.
Justice officials said that the lockdown would continue until
the prisoners agreed to end a limited protest in which they were
refusing to go back to their cells.
Paschal Bourke, the officer who was commanding the prisoners
until his release three weeks ago, said: "The protest will now
escalate. A dirty protest is a serious possibility."
The 23 prisoners are allowed out of their cells for just one
hour each day. They no longer have rights to visits, phone calls
or access to the prison shop.
The dispute began over the ending of an agreement in which
prisoners were allowed normal compassionate parole for critical
family events, such as funerals.
The prisoners have accused the department of having "reneged on
its commitments", claiming that it has acted in bad faith and
has attacked their status as "political prisoners".
The prison service, however, is claiming that no agreement was
ever reached with the prisoners. When pressed about the sudden
change in the arrangements for McKevitt, the spokesman said he
would not discuss individual cases.