NEWS FROM THE CELTIC LEAGUE
The Celtic League has written to David Ford MLA, Minister for Justice, expressing concerns about recent disturbances at Maghaberry Prison.
The League point out that in the past they have raised concerns about the prison which was the subject of a critical report from the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment.
The League also stress that they have previously accepted assurances that the Office of the Minister for Justice was serious about dealings with concerns and that prisoners rights would be respected and complaints addressed.
However repeated concerns which have been raised have not been resolved by the plethora of domestic agencies charged with this role. Therefore the Celtic League has indicated that the time for an independent external body to address matters at the jail has arrived. We have suggested the UN OHCHR, Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, and also the Council of Europe CPT (which has previously visited the prison) as suitable independent agencies.
We trust that the Office of the Minister for Justice will consider these options. In any case the Celtic League will be writing to both bodies to raise our concerns.
The letter to Minister Ford is set out below:
“Mr. David Ford MLA
Minister of Justice
3rd February 2015
I write to express our concerns over recent events at Maghaberry Prison.
The Prison has been the focus of increasing discontent and I understand that republican support groups outside the prison allege the prisoners rights are being abused, they are denied access to family (visits) and attacks on inmates by prison security staff are also alleged.
I understand that today your Office issued a statement rejecting claims that a prisoner had not been ‘seriously’ injured. The qualification begs the question have prisoners been ‘injured’ during the recent difficulties at the prison and what independent assessment has taken place?
You will of course be aware that Maghaberry was the subject of concerns from the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in when it issued a report on a visit to various custody facilities in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in 2009.
Following that report in April 2010 we raised concerns about the situation with the NIO Minister Responsible for Prisons, Paul Goggins, MP, and assurances that matters would be improved were given.
We then corresponded with your Office in August 2010 and we welcomed the assurances you gave at that time that you were
“serious…about protecting the rights and needs of all prisoners within the Northern Ireland prison estate”.
We subsequently raised issues relating to conditions surrounding the circumstances of a person detained at the Prison once again with your Office in July 2011.
In reply to that concern you responded (final paragraph) by setting out in some detail the avenues that were available for prisoners to use to resolve grievances. I quote:
“As you will be aware, the Northern Ireland Prison Service is subject to oversight by a wide range of independent bodies, including the Criminal Justice Inspectorate for Northern Ireland, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Independent Monitoring Board and the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Should ………… have any concerns with regard to the conditions of …. imprisonment …. also has recourse to a confidential complaints system and to the Prisoner Ombudsman.
DAVID FORD MLA
Minister of Justice”
Plainly if (as you outlined) there are multiple avenues to utilise to resolve grievances and yet discontent and disturbance continue within the Prison that there is clearly a lack of confidence in, or a failure of effectiveness by, the bodies you mention.
I would respectfully suggest that some independent international agency with a track record of investigating such matters be asked to intervene before matters deteriorate further.
Two such bodies are the United Nations, via the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and their Special Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, part of whose mission is to ‘undertake fact finding missions’, in addition there is the Council of Europe CPT who have already reported (see above) on the Prison and therefore are familiar with the situation there.
I will be copying this letter to both agencies and urging them to consider inquiring into the ongoing discontent at Maghaberry.
J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
(Please note that replies to correspondence received by the League and posted on CL News are usually scanned hard copies. Obviously every effort is made to ensure the scanning process is accurate but sometimes errors do occur.)
ISSUED BY THE CELTIC LEAGUE INFORMATION SERVICE
The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues
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