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6 February 1997 Edition

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Portlaoise protest for equality of treatment

BY LIAM O COILEAIN

All 38 republican prisoners in Portlaoise have embarked on a non-cooperation protest to demand equality of treatment for the four prisoners serving mandatory 40-year sentences (usually known as the ``40-year men'').

The crisis in the prison arose when Pat McPhillips, imprisoned since 1984, was denied compassionate parole to attend the funeral of his mother, Elizabeth, who died on Tuesday, 28 January. No explanation was given by the Department of Justice for the refusal. Other republican POWs regularly receive temporary release for funerals but the Department persists in treating the 40-year prisoners in a different manner and one which the republican POWs are no longer willing to accept.

The prisoners embarked on their protest at 2.30pm on Friday, 31 January and say it will continue until equality of treatment for all republican prisoners is secured. Legislation covering temporary release states that parole (technically termed temporary release) should not be granted to the 40-year men ``unless for grave reasons of a humanitarian nature''.

A spokesperson for the prisoners pointed out: ``In the last 25 years no republican prisoner has ever dishonoured compassionate parole. It should also be noted that on two occasions in the last two years compassionate parole has been granted to prisoners serving 40-year sentences.''

During the IRA cessation, 40-year man Brian McShane, who was convicted alongside Pat McPhillips, was allowed 36 hours retrospective temporary release to visit his parents' graves. They had died while he was in prison but he had been refused parole on both occasions to attend their funerals. In that same period, Peter Rogers, another 40-year man, who is in his 17th year in Portlaoise, was allowed 24 hours temporary release to attend the funeral of his father-in-law in Wexford.

All four 40-year men have now served longer than the average life sentence in the 26-County state. Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty, criticising the Department's decision, pointed out that the 40-year men were specifically excluded from the remit of the Life Sentence Review Board established in 1989 and are denied access to remission until they have served at least 30 years. The denial of remission is something of a red herring, as no life sentence prisoner ever receives remission. When lifers are released, they are freed on temporary release, which is then routinely extended, but without any remission of the sentence imposed. Doherty has called on the Dublin government to review the policy of excluding the 40-year men from the Life Sentence Review Board.

Sinn Féin POW department spokesperson Ann O'Sullivan, commenting on the protest, said: ``We will not allow republican prisoners to be used as pawns in a political game, especially in relation to such a sensitive issue as compassionate parole.''


Prisoners in segregation



BY LIAM O COILEAIN

Republican prisoners Pat Hayes and Liam Quinn are being held in segregation in Frankland and Durham Prisons respectively. The pair were moved from Full Sutton Prison in January following a widespread disturbance in the prison which was not instigated by republican POWs.

In a letter posted from Frankland, Pat Hayes revealed that since the move he has been locked in his cell all day, bar 30 minutes of exercise in a small roofed and caged yard. He is allowed no association and all his property, including books and educational material has been denied to him. At time of writing he did not even have a radio in his cell.
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