Five members of the Dublin parliament have protested about the conditions in which jailed republican Michael McKevitt is being held and have expressed their “deep concern” after he was abruptly returned to prison following a cancer operation.
Mr McKevitt was convicted on IRA charges in controversial circumstances on the basis of testimony by paid FBI informant David Rupert, and he is currently in his final year of his 20-year sentence.
Early this year the Louth man was diagnosed with a cancerous growth on his kidney when it was decided by medical staff at St James Hospital, Dublin, that he required surgery without delay.
The group of TDs -- Eamon O Cuiv, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Maureen O’Sullivan and Thomas Pringle -- has written to the 26 County Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald twice in the past fortnight.
They have alleged the decision to keep him in prison during his recovery from major surgery was not taken on medical grounds and said McKevitt was also “awaiting further investigations for serious medical complaints”.
They also expressed significant humanitarian concerns over his imprisonment in the Irish midlands.
“We are very concerned that Mr McKevitt has been returned to Portlaoise where prison conditions, with a high concentration of dirt and dust and a lack of in-cell sanitation, make it a very unsuitable environment for an older citizen with health problems to reside,” the first letter, signed by all five, stated.
“Our humanitarian concerns are aggravated by the fact that the doctor attached to Portlaoise Prison is absent presently, and there is not regular cover by a locum.
“As you will appreciate, consistency of care is very important for someone with medical conditions such as Mr McKevitt suffers.
“We are formally registering our concerns about his health and would like a full explanation regarding why he has not been granted an extension of temporary release.”
The McKevitt family are also seeking an explanation as to why his temporary release was revoked.
His eldest son Stephen McKevitt says his father was granted temporary release on March 14th for a number of days so he could inform his family of his condition and the need for surgery.
While on that period of weekend release in March, his family urged the prison authorities to allow him to remain free on health grounds. He was granted long-term temporary release, comprised of rolling one-week periods that were extended without interruption.
“Those TDs who have recently campaigned on behalf of my father see this for what it is - a humanitarian issue,” McKevitt’s eldest son, Stephen McKevitt, has said.
“And they agree that my father should be afforded the same rights as anybody else.”
He said he did not believe any other prisoner who had undergone major surgery would be returned to jail five weeks later.
His father did not have access to the standard of medical care required by those recovering after having an organ removed.
Stephen McKevitt said his father had spent over 14 years “as a political prisoner [and] has never sought any form of special treatment”.
He added his family had been told Fine Gael justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald had personally intervened to ensure the 65-year-old was returned to prison last week after three months of temporary release.