A doctor appointed by the United Nations is to assess the condition of internee Marian Price as concerns grow for her health.
The UN doctor will visit her at Hydebank Woodjail in south Belfast in his role as UN special rapporteur.
The west Belfast republican has been held in isolation for more than a year after she was summarily jailed by order of the British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson. Her condition has deteriorated to the point that she has been unable to participate in court hearings, even by video link.
Peter Corrigan of Kevin Winters solicitors, who represents Price, has welcomed UN involvement.
“There is unanimous medical opinion that Marian Price is unable to participate in any legal proceedings due to her deteriorating health so we would welcome this intervention by the UN on behalf of our client,” he said.
Concerns about her welfare were heightened this week after the governor of the prison where Ms Price is being held, Hydebank Wood Prison, was suspended following the suicide of another female prisoner last year.
Frances McKeown, a married mother-of-two, was one of two (non-political) prisoners who died by suicide at the jail on the same day last year -- May 4. Hydebank governor Gary Alcock has been suspended from his post, the Prisons Service said.
Her supporters say Marian remains in a vulnerable situation at Hydebank, and there are fears that her life may be in danger due to the conditions of her detention.
Pat Ramsey of the SDLP said: “I have to say in the strongest possible terms that this woman should be moved to a hospital environment where she can receive the medication and treatment she so badly needs,” he said.
“It beggars belief why that has not happened to date.
“The state is failing badly in the case of Marian Price.
“While I welcome a further independent doctor’s assessment it isn’t really required.
“There have already been enough medical examinations carried out that are all in agreement about her rapidly deteriorating mental health.”
The west Belfast republican has been held for more than a year after a release licence was revoked by Paterson.
A pardon she received in 1980, which would ensure her release, has been “lost” according to the British government. That pardon was issued to Marian on health grounds after prison warders in England brutally suppressed her and her sister’s seven-month hunger strike through force-feeding.
SDLP justice spokesman Alban Maginness has accused Britain of simply interning the political activist without trial.
He said Price has not been allowed due process in law.
“We do not support putting people away in prison because of intelligence or because of some political point of view and we are convinced that she has been detained without trial because of that by the secretary of state,” he said.
“She doesn’t even have her own counsel to represent her in relation to the intelligence report.
“They appoint a counsel, an outside barrister, to represent her on that - her own defence counsel can’t even look at the intelligence report. How is that due process.”
Meanwhile, Crown prosecutors have said they intend to resurrect charges against Price which were thrown out of court last week.
Last year, just before her internment order, Ms Price was accused of holding a piece of paper while a man in camouflage uniform read out a ‘Real IRA’ statement in Derry. The case was dismissed last week after the judge said a full year has passed without any evidence being presented.
But Ms Price and three others who also saw charges arising from the Easter commemoration thrown out of court could see those charges resurrected.
Chief Crown prosecutor Barra McGrory said that the ruling was “by no means the end of the matter” and said the case would be “recommenced in another way”.
Peter Corrigan of Kevin Winters law firm said any move by the Crown to charge Ms Priceagain in the case would represent “an abuse of process”.
A separate charge against Ms Price, brought last summer in relation to the use of a mobile phone “for terrorist purposes”, also remains a potential source of prosecution by McGrory. No application for bail was made on that charge due to the ongoing internment order.