Statement- An Open Letter to Pat Ramsey 15/12/14
Although we appreciate your efforts to end conflict in Maghaberry gaol we feel we must clarify an issue you raised in a Stormont debate held on November 25th 2014.
A campaign to erode our rights and return us to serious conflict is being fronted by the DUP. For some time the SET has been incorporated into this campaign. It has been alleged by you, and others, that Republican Political Prisoners threatened SET staff. This disinformation, regurgitated by you during a Stormont debate (25-11-14), is designed to undermine the 2010 Agreement and Stocktake, and dissuade those of influence from confronting the DUP’s malign efforts and subterfuge.
Our SUBSTANDARD HEALTHCARE statement was deliberately released to coincide with the release of the CJINI report into prison healthcare and, to bring focus on, serious failings within the system which in turn allow for potential death and serious injury in custody; Niall Leonard, Darren Sweeney and Sean Lynch, are but a few who were grievously affected by such failings. Also, within days of the release of our statement we had the unexplained death of yet another prisoner, Liam Mulhern, whose complaints are well documented, and are currently being investigated by the Prisoner Ombudsman.
The section in our statement referencing the overtly cosy relationship between some SET staff and the notorious RIOT SQUAD during forced strip-searches of Republican prisoners is also well documented, through internal complaints, of which the Prisoner Ombudsman is well aware. You should be aware that a Republican Prisoner Representative approached healthcare staff the day after the sensationalist headlines in the Belfast Telegraph and fully explained the position of ourselves as outlined to you now. He further stated that there was absolutely no threat to healthcare staff and that Republican prisoners were greatly appreciative of the strenuous tasks they undertake and the diligence shown by them, but that incidents with particular individuals joking with Riot Squad members who have just forcibly stripped naked a Republican prisoner is of great concern to us. He also explained that he had requested, after “prompting” by yourself, Sinn Fein and the Assessment Team, a meeting with a SET representative, three times verbally and twice in writing and has had no response, or simple acknowledgement from them. Those requests were made in late July and early August 2014. The two healthcare staff present accepted fully our position and thanked the RPP representative.
The healthcare provided in Maghaberry gaol as a whole is sub-standard. This year the mother of suicide victim Niall Leonard stated that the inadequate care that her son received had led directly to his death. A young man from Derry who had self-mutilated was returned to a cell where he gauged his own eyes out. In May 2013 an inquest into the death of James McDonnell (found dead in a cell minutes after being choked by Riot Squad members) found that the Maghaberry administration had failed in its duty of care to prisoners. Only last week it was reported that criminal proceedings are now pending as a consequence. The SET’s failure to provide adequate healthcare has become an aggravating factor in our campaign to secure the implementation of the August Agreement. The environment created by conflict has caused a relationship to develop between SET and NIPS staff that clearly compromises the SET’s duty of care to prisoners and their ability to remain impartial.
Prisoners suffering serious illnesses and requiring specialist medical treatments are not only being failed but their lives are being placed in unnecessary danger. This relationship has led to obscene circumstances where jovialness has reigned between “nurses” and Riot Squad members and intimate derogatory remarks go unchecked.
When we spoke out against this relationship we were pilloried. In reminding the SET of their duty of care to prisoners we were condemned. A few days later, Liam Mulhern from West Belfast was found dead in Maghaberry gaol. There were few statements made in his defence or against the healthcare system that had clearly failed once again in its duty of care.
Despite our justifiable opposition to how the SET is operating in Maghaberry prison we have never impeded SET staff. Republican prisoners encounter SET staff daily and at all times we conduct ourselves with discipline, respect and integrity. There has never been any threat, veiled or otherwise, levelled against the SET or its staff by Republican prisoners or our welfare representatives.
We believe this issue provides further evidence of how any effort from us at securing fundamental rights are being undermined by DUP fictions, which are then carried as fact. We would expect that a man of integrity, such as you, would not fall into the trap of peddling myths, half truths and propaganda for those who clearly have a political axe to grind.
We look forward to your response; after you consider all of the facts surrounding this issue, and hope a clearer understanding of why we criticised the SET publically emerges.
Republican Political Prisoners
Roe 4, Maghaberry Gaol