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McCartney details Sinn Féin delegation visit and ‘serious concerns’ about Maghaberry situation

20 May, 2010 - by Raymond McCartney

Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney was part of a Sinn Féin delegation which entered Maghaberry Gaol last Friday. The delegation included Mr McCartney, Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, Paul Maskey MLA and John O’Dowd MLA. The Sinn Féin team was accompanied by Michael Culbert of Coiste na nIarchimí.

The delegation reported back to the Sinn Féin Assembly Team this week.

Speaking after the visit Raymond McCartney described the meeting with Roe House prisoners as “a very positive engagement” in which the men had outlined their concerns.

“A range of issues were raised by the prisoners. They included complaints about a number of punitive actions such as the use of strip searching as harassment of both prisoners and their visitors and a range of other conditions-related issues that were very familiar to the former prisoners on the delegation,” said Mr McCartney.

“It was clear that with the right political will that all of these issues could be resolved. The delegation discussed all of this with the ten prisoners we met and assured them their concerns would be conveyed to the prison administration, the Prison service and to the Justice Minister,” said McCartney.

A number of matters concerned with the harassment of visitors were also raised by the delegation. These included the proximity of dogs in the visit processing area, the presence of the PSNI in the visitors-area, the public selecting of who is to be strip searched and visitors being threatened with arrest if they refuse to be strip searched.

Prisoners also raised issues of access, particularly the practice of forcing segregated prisoners to eat their meals in the cells.

“The delegation also met with Liam Hannaway whose health has become a matter of concern. Liam outlined his concerns, all of which centred on prison conditions and procedures. It was the firm belief of the delegation that all of these issues could be satisfactorily dealt with by the governor,” said Raymond.

The delegation had requested to meet with Harry Fitzsimmons, a prisoner being held in isolation, but this did not happen due to a misunderstanding.

“Harry’s lawyer contacted me last Saturday to explain the situation and assure me that his client was not in any way snubbing the delegation. The delegation had sought to visit Harry after his family raised concerns about his health and well being,” said Mr McCartney.

It has also been reported that Harry Fitzsimmons has been subjected to physical assault by members of the prison staff.

“After our 3 hour meeting with the prisoners, the delegation met with the governor again to outline their concerns and suggestions. In the coming period Sinn Fein will meet with the director general of the prison service, with representatives of the prison administration as well as the Minister for Justice, David Ford, regarding our deep concerns about the current situation for prisoners and their families in Maghaberry,” he concluded.

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