11 August 1997
Sinn Fein Delegation describe Special Secure Units as prison tombs
Sinn Fein Vice President Pat Doherty Caoimhghín Ó Caolaín TD and Sinn Fein Prisoners Department representative Bernie Farrell met with Republican Prisoners in Whitemoor, Frankland ,Full Sutton and Belmarsh over the weekend The purpose of the visit was to update the prisoners on the present situation and inform them of recent developments in the peace process. The Sinn Fein delegation visited Whitemoor on Thursday , Frankland and Full Sutton on Friday and Belmarsh on Saturday morning. The delegation met with approximately 27 sentenced and remand prisoners during their stay and which included prisoners held in the notorious SSU's or Special Secure Units.
The delegation also had a series of meetings with senior prison staff which included the Governor and deputy Governors of the various jails they visited. The harsh conditions particularly for prisoners held in the Special Secure Units and the denial of open visits to relatives and friends of republican prisoners were discussed in detail. One prisoner whom the delegation met, Paul Magee, has not seen his wife and children since before the IRA cessation of August 1994 - over three years
Sinn Fein Vice President Pat Doherty commenting on the visits stated:
``This was an opportunity for us update republican prisoners on the present situation and inform them of recent developments in the peace process. It was also an opportunity for the prisoners to raise issues of concern to them.
``These visits are part of a comprehensive programme to ensure that all republican prisoners in Britain Ireland and America are fully informed of the current situation .It was a humbling experience. I was in the company of men entering their 23rd year behind bars and others just beginning a 35 year sentence. I saw no difference in the attitude of those in 23 years to those in a few years. There was no talk of their own freedom they were more concerned to talk about building a viable peace process which could bring about a lasting settlement.We found prisoners were fully conversant with the current political situation and fully in support of Sinn Fein's efforts to secure peace with justice.
``We were shocked by the living conditions experienced by republicans prisoners inside the so called Special Secure Units. Denied access to any natural light the Units have a tomb-like quality which combined with a paranoia by the prison authorities about security, creates an inhuman and intolerable atmosphere for these prisoners. The British government needs to immediately close down these SSU's.
``We assured the prisoners in Whitemoor, Full Sutton ,Frankland and Belmarsh that Sinn Fein will be raising the whole question of prisoners. We stressed our determination to campaign for the release of all those imprisoned as a result of the conflict. Pending their release we will of course be continuing to campaign for the transfer of prisoners home to Ireland
``In the context of conflict resolution the examples from around the world are that the release of political prisoners is part of the consolidation of a peace process.''
Pat Doherty added:
``This visit which covered over 750 miles brought home to us the reality of life for many of the families of these prisoners. The long distances, the expense and stress of trying to maintain a family bond in a harsh prison environment all add to these burden these families are forced to endure without their loved ones. Their loyalty and endurance continues to inspire us all and is a constant source of comfort to the prisoners during their confinement.''
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