Martin Galvin (MG) interviews recently released Republican political prisoner, Declan Carroll (DC), via telephone from Ireland about the deplorable condition of the E 2 Block of Portlaoise Prison where Republican political prisoners are housed. Thanks to TPQ transcriber.
Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
14 November 2015
(begins time stamp ~ 17:50)
MG: Portlaoise is in The South of Ireland. There are many people - many of them were very high up in the Republican Movement - they played prominent roles for many years in fighting against British rule. and after the Stormont Agreement was signed they disagreed - they did not believe it would lead to a united Ireland, they did not want to end fighting against British rule at that time. and there's about thirty-five of them in prison now. And I was shocked! I was contacted by a family member of one of the hunger strikers of 1981 to talk about the terrible conditions which are in place there – which prisoners who are sick are now being put back into prisons into the very conditions which made them sick. There were photographs that were smuggled out of that prison to highlight these conditions. A member of Parliament in The South, Clare Daly, has raised these conditions. and still, there's been no improvement – been no, nothing done about the deteriorating conditions there which have sickened prisoners and have been responsible for bad health - the denial of medical treatment.
There's actually a protest today, near Dublin Airport in the north of Dublin. There's an ongoing protest within the prison itself and the prisoners have asked – they want to highlight these conditions - and they asked to go on to WBAI. They knew that the American audience would be an important place to begin – that it would reach people in Ireland who listen to the show via the internet and they have made a request and I'm glad we can have on Declan Carroll and interview him firsthand about why there's a protest going on. Why political prisoners, Republican political prisoners, are protesting, are suffering these inhumane conditions 2015 in Portlaoise Prison and what Americans can do about it. Okay, Declan, are you on the line?
DC: Hello, Martin. How are things?
MG: Alright, Declan. Declan Carroll served nine years as a Republican political prisoner for IRA membership charges in the South of Ireland. Is that correct, Declan?
DC: Yeah, that's correct, Martin. Yep.
MG: And you told me that there is a protest now in the north of the city today that you're very much involved with, not too far from where Dublin Airport is, and that conditions within the prison have gotten so bad that there is now an ongoing prison protest by the prisoners there, that photographs were smuggled out of the prison to highlight these conditions. Could you tell us about the conditions in Portlaoise which have led, with… and which political prisoners are now on protest?
DC: I'm speaking on behalf on E-2 – Republican prisoners on E 2 landing in Portlaoise Gaol. You must understand that in Portlaoise Gaol, in E Block, which is approximately one hundred and twenty years old – it's a typical cold and gray Victorian structure. E Block consists of four landings – each containing roughly thirty-five cells per landing. Now each landing is separated by a wire mesh. And each landing again is uniform in its layout; for example the kitchens and the showers and the toilets are identically positioned on each landing. Security within the block is: the Irish, Irish Army patrol the rooftops and the perimeter walls and within the block security is at the sole responsibility of the Irish Prison Service.
MG: Declan, could you tell us: Why photographs were smuggled out? Why there is a protest going on now? What are the conditions which have led to that? Why Clare Daly, for example, is bringing it up in Leinster House?
DC: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well this protest started back in September in response to the inhumane and degrading conditions which the men on E Block are forced to endure. And I'll just list some of these,m some of these conditions out to you, Martin: There's a consistent failure by the prison authorities to provide adequate medical care to the prisoners in the E Block.
MG: Alright, is there any doctor on staff in the prison?
DC: Well there has been a bit of movement on that issue in the last number of days and this is in direct response to the prisoners' protest. Where there was no doctor we now have a doctor on the block five mornings a week.
MG: Alright – but what's the policy then if somebody became ill? It would take hours before that person could be moved and get emergency medical treatment.
DC: Exactly – it would take hours is right. We've had numerous examples in the past where it took – for example, when I was down there a man took ill complaining of chest pains. The medic came down and gave him paracetamol (acetaminophen) and told him not to worry – that everything would be okay.
Again, he was looking for assistance an hour or two later. And again, he was given paracetamol – told everything would be okay. It got so bad that they eventually, after four hours, removed him to Portlaoise General Hospital which is only five minutes across the way. The reason why it took them four hours was because they had to get their security procedures in place.
MG: Alright, so if somebody had a heart attack or chest pains or something of that nature it would take four hours at that stage to bring him to a hospital.
DC: It would take…
MG: What are some other conditions, Declan, that caused this protest?
DC: The other conditions - there's a general decay within E Block which by the gaol's own admission has rendered it unfit for purpose. And this includes: the ongoing concrete erosion of the roof area where food is served, the ongoing erosion and collapse of plaster and concrete in the ceilings of the shower area. Men regularly use the showers and the ceiling is actually coming down on top of them. Many cells have being condemned due to dampness and are beyond use. Some vacant cells have also been condemned due to prolonged infestation by pigeons.
But the main focus of the process, of the protest, sorry, is the absence of any in-cell sanitation within the cells. That's the main focus of the protest. We have a practice – a daily continuance of slopping out - a process which has been condemned by a lot of human rights groups and by the UN Human Rights Commission – it's been condemned and it's still in practice in Portlaoise Gaol today as we speak.
MG: We're speaking to Declan Carroll, who is a former Republican political prisoner in Portlaoise, talking about the conditions which have now led to a protest. Declan, there's been a number of complaints about prisoners developing various illnesses – cancer, Legionnaire's Disease, other diseases.
DC: That’s correct.
MG: What - is there a causal relationship between these conditions and the outbreak of illnesses with these prisoners?
DC: Well I'll just give you one example, one recent example, Martin. Over the last few weeks one of our men on E 2 had to undergo a serious medical procedure which required a hospital stay and a period of recuperation. He applied for temporary release and was granted it so he could recuperate at home. After a number of days the Irish Prison Service terminated his temporary release without any explanation and summonsed that man to present himself back to Portlaoise. This man is recovering from a serious operation and was returned to the same unhygienic and degrading conditions which had contributed to his illness. Cogus …
MG: Declan, sorry ...
DC: Cogús has also called on the Department of Justice to make public a recent doctor's report that highlights the dangers prisoners are exposed to –
DC: Legionnaire's Disease, as you mentioned for example, and other serious respiratory health risks due to the extremely poor conditions. Now this is a point that needs to be driven home: that the Department of Justice has been prioritising security over the health and wellbeing of the prisoners in its care.
MG: Now Declan, you mention Cogús – that is a Republican support group – could you tell...
DC: Cogús is a Republican prisoners support and welfare group which highlights injustices suffered by Irish political prisoners.
MG: Now Declan, recently there were photographs that were smuggled out of the prison – I'm not going to ask you how that happened – but they showed toilets that didn’t work, obviously didn't work, showers didn't work, that there were holes in the walls, etc - what was the response of the prison service to these photographs being put on display, published, sorry?
DC: The photos became available to Cogús which were taken in Portlaoise and smuggled out. And the photos show a number of areas within the gaol that's in serious deterioration. And one of these was the erosion of the ceiling in the shower area which I mentioned earlier. Another one was of a filthy sink which men have to wash themselves in as well as cleaning their chamber pots each morning – it's the very same sink! Another photo shows open sewage running down pipes between the landings. Other photos showed the erosion of ceilings where food is served and dampness in cells and everything else. Instead of the gaol looking to improve the conditions of the men they have now carried out an investigation into how photos were taken and smuggled out.
MG: Alright Declan, I know Clare Daly, a Member of Parliament in Leinster House, had raised this and asked for a response and nothing happened. What can Americans do to try and improve these conditions and to help those long-term, many of them Republican prisoners in Portlaoise, who have to go through these conditions?
DC: Well, first and foremost I would like to commend and thank Clare Daly on behalf of the Republican POWs on E 2 Landing in raising the situation, the ongoing situation, in Dáil Éireann last week. What Americans, Irish-Americans can do? We'd call on Irish-Americans to lobby their own political representatives who in turn could use their influence and apply pressure on the Irish government to address the situation at Portlaoise. And we would also encourage |,ericans, on Irish-Americans and the public in general to write directly to An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald.
MG: Alright now, Irish-Americans also can contact their local Consulates here. Alright Declan, we want to thank you for bringing that issue forward. We hope it's going to be resolved – that we don't have to deal with it very much in future and that American pressure and publicity and highlighting the issue as you're doing today at a protest in Dublin and on the radio will help these conditions to end, to be ended and these prisoners to get the humane treatment that they're entitled to. Thank you very much, Declan.
DC: Martin, thanks very much. Just on behalf of the prisoners and on behalf of Cogús I'd like to thank yourself and WBAI for giving us the opportunity to raise the situation.
(ends time stamp ~ 29:35)