4 December 1996
Remember political prisoners this Christmas
Sinn Fein Vice President Pat Doherty today launched a month of activities to highlight the situation of republican prisoners in jails in Ireland, Britain and the United States.
Mr. Doherty said:
``As we enter the Christmas season, Sinn Fein are launching an information campaign in towns and villages throughout the country to highlight the situation of republican prisoners in jails in Ireland, Britain and the US.
``At present there are almost 400 Irish Republican prisoners in jails throughout Ireland and Britain, with the majority incarcerated in the Six Counties. It is worth noting that in the last 25 years over 10,000 Irish republicans have been imprisoned, meaning that almost the entire northern nationalist population have been touched in some respect by imprisonment.
``The issue of political prisoners is something that has been widely discussed over the last two years and it was clearly recognised that prisoners played a vital role in creating a climate of peace.
``It is for this reason that so many people found it incredible that during the 18 month IRA cessation conditions for Irish prisoners in Britain had worsened, particularly with the ``punitive'' conditions imposed upon republican prisoners held in Special Security Units in England. Over the last year and a half they have been subjected to the denial of religious services, no access to gym facilities, no natural light, no books, the regular use of beatings and strip searching and 23 hour lock up.
``An eminent doctor who examined the prisoners within the last year described their conditions as follows ``Such treatment of human beings, in a way that I can only liken to animals in a zoo, is therefore not only inhumane, contrary to the dictates of a civilised society which surely we are trying to inculcate in the prisoners, but also is foolish in that it is counter-productive.''
``Speaking about one of the prisoners he states that the conditions he has lived in for the past one and a half years are ``those of a caged animal kept permanently indoors under artificial light and with insufficient room to exercise its muscles. A civilised society condemns conditions like these for animals in a zoo. It should condemn them for the containment of a human being.''
``More recently a delegation of Irish Labour Party Oireachtas members recently called for an ``urgent review'' of conditions in SSU units, where Irish remand prisoners are denied the same visiting facilities as other inmates. Solicitor Gareth Pierce described the Special Secure Units as ``concrete coffins''.
``With this ongoing deterioration of conditions for republican prisoners in English jails people are now asking if this is the imaginative response that families can expect from the British government as they sit down to celebrate another Christmas without their loved ones''? No human being should have to endure this type of dehumanisation policy.
``Furthermore there are four Irish political prisoners in England who will begin their 22nd year of imprisonment this month and one other who will enter his 22nd year in May 1997. Brendan Dowd, from Kerry, who was transferred to Portlaoise in May of this year is already in his 22nd year of imprisonment. There has been no indication that any of these men will be released in the short term.
``The treatment of these men is in stark contrast to that of Private Ian Thain and Lee Clegg. Both were members of the British Army convicted of murdering young Irish people and sentenced to life imprisonment. Both were transferred almost immediately to prisons near to their homes and after only two years were released.
``Sinn Fein continues to call for the immediate repatriation of republican prisoners to jails nearer their families and for the British and Irish governments to seriously address the pivotal issue of political prisoners.''
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