An Irish judge has drawn attention to herself after she hit out at an Irish parliamentarian’s interest in the human rights of political prisoners, and claimed to be ‘puzzled’ at her concern over the issue of internment by remand.
A 25-year-old biomedical worker and student, Donal Coisdealbha had been arrested amid republican protests over the May 2015 visit by Prince Charles. After admitting to IRA membership, and almost 18 months after his arrest, Mr O Coisdealbha was this week finally sentenced to a period of six years at Dublin’s Special Criminal Court.
In December, Dublin Central TD Maureen O’Sullivan (pictured, right) joined fellow Independent TDs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly in attending a bail hearing, where Mr O Coisdealbha was refused bail. After the young man from Killester in Dublin was pointlessly held for another six months, Ms O’Sullivan wrote a letter to the judge in the case, in which she questioned bail refusal. She also descrived Mr O Coisdealbha as an intelligent, articulate and hardworking young man.
But the presiding judge suggested members of the Dublin parliament should have no concern for political prisoners or the bail process. At the sentencing this week, Justice Isobel Kennedy (pictured, left) condemned Ms O’Sullivan’s concern and described her letter as “puzzling”.
Speaking afterwards, the Central Dublin TD said she stood over the letter, pointing out that it was written to highlight the issue of those prisoners facing long periods on remand, including Mr O Coisdealbha, who had been held without trial for over a year.
“What I wrote in the letter I can stand over. I also made the point in the letter that this is very regrettable what had happened and the situation he was in,” she said. “The concern was length of time people being left on remand without being brought to court,” she added.
The issue of the extended detention of Irish republicans without bail, sometimes known as ‘internment by remand’, has been a matter of concern to international human rights organisations for several years. Ms O’Sullivan is one a number of 26 County TDs who have frequently taken the judicial process to task on both sides of the boder
This week, Ms O Sullivan joined other TDs to meet the Six County Minister for Justice Claire Sugden to improve conditions for republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison in Counth Antrim.
Fianna Fail TD Eamon O Cuiv and Independents Maureen O’Sullivan and Thomas Pringle met Ms Sugden at Stormont on Monday to press the case on behalf of more than 20 republican prisoners held in Maghaberry. Agreements were made in 2010 but they have not been implemented, and republican prisoners are still being strip-searched and subject to stringent curbs on association.
Strip-searches take place before and after prisoners leave jail, but they are also strip-searched when they appear before a court through a video-link in the prison, even though they never leave its grounds.
“This is very degrading,” said Mr O Cuiv. Prisoners are also being denied education in Irish and other expressions of cultural identity, he noted. “All we are asking is that the 2010 agreement would be implemented”.
Saying they had “ got a good hearing” from the newly appointed Minister, the Galway West TD said lowering tensions in Maghaberry would have “ a big effect on attitudes in the wider nationalist community”.
Ms O’Sullivan also called for a “completely different relationship between staff and prisoners”. A change of regime had been promised at Maghaberry, but the prisoners there believe “it is all process but no progress”, she said.