Eighty-year-old artist and anti-war activist Margaretta D’Arcy has described the prison system in the 26 Counties as “inhumane” following her release from prison in Limerick.
Ms D’Arcy, who was serving a second prison sentence over her opposition to the US military use of Shannon Airport, said she was locked up for 23 hours a day and forced to defecate in the same cell where she ate.
The Galway pensioner, who is receiving cancer treatment, had not eaten for some days after being taken into custody last Wednesday as a hunger protest in solidarity with victims of war around the world.
Another political prisoner at the women’s section of Limerick Prison, republican Ursula Ni Shionnan, this week described the jail as “a dungeon”. Ms D’Arcy called on Minister for Justice Francis Fitzgerald to close it down.
“The women are treated as inferior citizens,” she said. “Contrary to what everyone says, the sensory deprivation is that we are just cooped up in a tiny little area. Limerick [Prison] was never meant to be for women.”
Ms D’Arcy said she could not see much help being provided for prisoners who have problems with mental health or addictions. She said women prisoners were being treated as “fodder” for a corrupt judicial system.
“A lot of these women have problems with drugs and whatever. Where is the rehabilitation? They shouldn’t be in. The full wealth of the State should be there for them to be rehabilitated.
“What are the solicitors doing about it? So, you have women shoplifting for a bottle of vodka and the solicitor is being paid [euro]250 a day to come along and say to the women, ‘Are you pleading guilty or not guilty?’.”
“The whole thing is a multi-million [euro] industry, and the women are treated as fodder. They’re the kind of resources that go in to keep this enormous corrupt industry going.”
In the North, Continuity IRA prisoners in Maghaberry jail have threatened to boycott all visits over plans to limit prisoners’ interactions with visitors. Under proposed changes later this, year the visiting area will be reduced in size and the layout changed, resulting in personal contact being severely limited.
Tensions in the prison have been growing in recent months with prisoners accusing authorities of reneging on a 2010 deal to end strip searches and controlled movement.
In a statement the Continuity IRA prisoners said: “We, as republican prisoners, will not be criminalised and so cannot, and will not, accept this arrangement.
“We will refuse all visits that are conducted in this manner, as we will not allow the prison regime to humiliate us or our families.”