One of the oldest republican prisoners at Maghaberry has said he is being refused the right to have proper treatment for bowel cancer because he is a resident of the 26 County state.
76-year-old Sean O’Neill, from Limerick, was arrested in November last year in Newry along with 11 other people in an MI5 led raid on a leadership meeting of the breakaway ‘Continuity Sinn Fein’.
Mr O’Neill was arrested along with veteran republican Patrick ‘Mooch’ Blair from Dundalk and Limerick man Joe ‘Tiny’ Lynch. He denies the charges against him which include ‘directing terrorism’.
Writing from prison, the pensioner, who has no previous IRA convictions, says he was diagnosed with bowel cancer shortly after being remanded in custody.
He said his age and clean record should have made him a suitable candidate for bail, despite asking to reside in and receive medical treatment in the south. However, he was refused bail and remains in Maghaberry, another victim of internment by remand.
He is receiving limited medical treatment and is always escorted to hospital visits by prison staff in handcuffs.
“I applied for bail to go to Limerick hospital for where I would be close to family and friends during my treatment. I’ve been told I will probably need surgery and need my family around me in case something goes wrong,” he said.
His situation reflects a larger crisis over the treatment of republican prisoners as the British government appears ready to extend its criminalisation and isolation policy at the jail.
During a recent parliamentary debate in Dublin, the 26-County Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan revealed that representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross had been actively consulting with prisoners and management at Maghaberry “to agree working methods”.
But he accepted there had been failures by the prison authorities in the North to honour previous agreements.
“Strip-searching, controlled movement and [isolation] continue as points of difference and tension between prisoners and prison management,” he said. However, he blamed health and safety issues for what he described as “differences in emphasis between management and prisoners”.
Independent TD Mick Wallace said the situation had been deteriorating and the management of the prison was seeking to humiliate the prisoners.
“Individuals who were brought to hospital never left the sight of security forces. They were strip-searched going out and strip-searched coming back, despite the fact that they were handcuffed to security personnel all the time. No one could possible justify it,” he told the Dail.