Irish Republican News · February 20, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Ex-prisoners to sue over toxic gas

Former republican political prisoners plan legal action against the British government for using a toxic gas to quell a 1974 riot in Long Kesh.

The CR gas has resulted in a high incidence of cancers and lung problems among former internees. It is thought that more than 50 prisoners affected by the chemical spray have died or become ill.

An American government estimation of the effects of CR or dibenzoxazepine, which was produced in Britain, is that it cannot be safely used because “not enough is known about the carcinogenic or mutagenic effects it might have”.

After years of denial by the British authorities, it emerged earlier this year in documents released under the new Freedom of Information Act that CR gas was authorised for use in the North in 1973.

Jim McCann, an internee in Long Kesh, has been compiling a list of the prisoners there when the gas was released. “It is clear that a lot of men were badly affected by what happened to them that day,” he said.The effect of the gas, which was dropped in canisters from helicopters and then divided into thousands of little droplets, was immediate and debilitating. To think that it is now costing men’s lives is horrifying.

“We have fought for years to prove that the British used us as guinea pigs for a gas that even the American armed forces would not buy. Blood samples were taken from prisoners affected by the gas.”

Research into the effects of the gas is being carried out by Coiste na n-Iarchimi, a republican ex-prisoners’ association, by Madden and Finucane solicitors and by Sinn Féin. All the cases are being compiled for a possible action under international human rights law.

The riot at the prison involved nearly 800 republicans in a dispute over visits, food and compassionate parole. The next morning a British Army helicopter fired gas canisters, which are now believed to have contained the CR gas. Prisoners were incapacitated and easily overpowered by the guards.

McCann said: “The canister exploded above us and the air was filled with fumes. It felt as if your lungs were filling with water. It was overpowering.”

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© 2005 Irish Republican News