Prisoners face tough conditions this Christmas

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A republican prisoner has obtained legal permission to challenge prison authorities for subjecting him to strip searches around every court attendance.

Damien McLaughlin was granted leave to seek a judicial review into the repeated and degrading breaches of his human rights. The Tyrone man, who is being held at Maghaberry Prison, is among ten people who were arrested and remanded withut bail in a swoop on republicans in 2020.

Mr McLaughlin and four others have been subject to twice daily strip searches every day they leave prison to attend the hearings. There have now been in excess of 200 such incidents which have been desribed as “seriously distressing”.

The invasive searches have been made obsolete by new technology, yet they continue to be carried out by orders of the prison authorities. The procedure has been condemned by Fianna Fáil TD Eamon O Cuiv, who said it is “unnecessary and purposely degrading treatment which conflicts with any decent human rights codes”.

Lawyer Gavin Booth, of Phoenix Law, confirmed that leave was granted at the High Court to apply for a judicial review.

Speaking outside court he said: “The decision to strip search prisoners as a matter of course does, in our view, breach our client’s Convention rights and can only be described as inhuman and degrading.

“We hope for an urgent end to this policy, especially where technology now exists to negate the need for strip searching.”

Menwhile, republican prisoners at Maghaberry have reported that Covid continues to be used an excuse for callous restrictions on family visits. Visiting hours are heavily curtailed, while delays to personal mail and restrictions on gym and educational activities continue to be blamed on Covid.

In a statement this week, a group of prisoners called for “meaningful dialogue” to resolve the situation.

“Maintaining family life is of the utmost importance to Republican Prisoners and we cannot accept the continuation of the current situation,” they said.

“We call on the Maghaberry regime to reinstate the gaol conditions to pre-pandemic conditions. The Republican Prisoners would like to reiterate that we are not asking for concessions, we are asking for full reinstatement of our pre-covid conditions.”

Events are being held to show support for the prisoners and their loved ones as the Christmas season approaches. In the centre of Newry, the names of republican prisoners had been attached to a Christmas tree as a reminder to shoppers.

“The month of December has become a traditional fixture in the calendar of those who continue to campaign and support the current political prisoners throughout Ireland and their families,” the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association said.

“December, a time of the year widely known for festivities, happiness, togetherness, and most of all, appreciation for those you call family. We know December can also be a tough and trying period for those attempting to provide for their loved ones and young children.

“Today, we send strength and solidarity to those who will have an empty seat at their table this Christmas due to their mother, father, son, brother or sister being incarcerated at the hands of the British and Free State governments.”

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