The mother of a two-year-old boy has told how they were refused entry to Maghaberry prison for a family visit because her son was wearing camouflage-patterned shoes.
Carol McLaughlin condemned the mistreatment after her toddler son was denied access to the visiting area to see his father, Lurgan republican Damian Duffy.
Damian Duffy is currently being held in the jail’s republican Roe House awaiting trial.
Ms McLaughlin said she had already passed through a search zone in the prison yesterday and was sitting in a waiting area when she was approached by two warders.
She was told that her son’s shoes were not acceptable because “the camouflage posed a threat to the staff because they resembled paramilitary-style clothing”.
A senior official then insisted they would have to be removed or replaced by other footwear before the visit could go ahead.
Because she was unwilling to remove the child’s shoes and didn’t have replacement footwear, she was forced to leave the prison without visiting his father.
“I didn’t get angry,” she said. “I said I thought it was absurd and was it possible they could show some discretion as he is not 20, but only two.”
Her toddler son had been allowed into the prison in the past wearing the same shoes. “They have let the child in before so there is discretion to some degree,” she said.
The incident comes just two weeks after the Six County Justice Department issue an apology to the family of the five-year-old child of another prisoner after the jail forced him to remove his t-shirt.
Other disturbing incidents at the prison this week include the rough handling by warders of an 18-month-old infant who was unable to stand by himself due to a bandaged foot.
“The disgruntled screw proceeded to stand the child in the metal detector and made no attempt to hide his disgust at having to hold this child,” two other visitors reported.
At Hydebank prison for women, visits to the only republican prisoner there were cancelled due to the alleged lack of a room, a situation blamed by the prison on “outside agencies”. Christine Connor is held in complete isolation at Hydebank with no access to education or craft classes as prison authorities have claimed they do not have the resources to accommodate separated republican prisoners.
There was further trouble at Maghaberry this week when others who had travelled a considerable distance to visit friends or relatives were stopped by ineffectual drug-detection dogs. The visitors, which included the wife of miscarriage of justice victim Brendan McConville, were then offered only “closed visits”, meaning they are kept behind screens for the duration of the visit. At least three visitors, including Mrs McConville, refused to accept the offer of a closed visit.
“These incidents follow in a long line of attacks on families by NIPS [Northern Ireland Prison Service] as a means of harassing republican prisoners and it is clear that NIPS believe it can continue this trend with impunity,” the Roe 4 Maghaberry prisoners said in a statement.