Seanad Éireann - Volume 146 - 14 March, 1996

Adjournment Matters. - Transfer of Prisoner.

Mr. Neville: I thank the Tánaiste for replying to this humanitarian issue, the transfer of a republican prisoner, Paddy Kelly, from Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland on compassionate and humanitarian grounds. The British Home Secretary must surely now accept the validity of the case.

Paddy Kelly from County Laois is terminally ill. He has stated that he has a matter of months to live and, in fact, it is probably much shorter. Paddy's partner, Angela, has stated that he is no danger or threat to anyone at this stage and should be allowed to come home, at least to Portlaoise Prison, which is only ten minutes from his home.

[1523] Paddy is serving a 25 year sentence and while in prison in England developed a cancerous tumour on his back. His treatment was shameful and he was inhumanely neglected at the time. His condition started as a simple mole but was not properly treated. During that time Paddy was on a dirty protest against the inhumane conditions which too many republican prisoners are forced to endure in Britain. I, with Deputy Flaherty, met Paddy Kelly in the medical unit of Whitemoor Prison on 12 September last. For three years prior to that he saw only a grey concrete wall and could not see the sky except through grids. The governor of Whitemoor Prison gave us a commitment that Paddy Kelly would not be returned to the special security unit until his consultant gave medical clearance to do so. From our conversations with Paddy Kelly it was obvious to us that this would take several months. We were amazed to learn some two weeks after our visit that Paddy Kelly was back in the special secure unit on dirty protest.

Paddy Kelly has only seen his two year old daughter, Sara Louise, twice since she was born. As a humanitarian gesture to a dying man and a signal of good intent towards the peace process, the Home Secretary should transfer Paddy Kelly under the transfer of prisoners convention which came into force between Ireland and Britain on 1 November last year. The file to consider his transfer was forwarded to Dublin in December and was expeditiously dealt with by the Department of Justice and returned to Britain. Britain is now in a position to act on this file and return Paddy Kelly to this State. I ask the Tánaiste — I know he will — to urge the Home Secretary to do so.

The conditions in Maghaberry Prison are also accelerating Paddy Kelly's illness. His partner, Angela, recently stated that when he was in hospital he [1524] looked quite well but since returned to the prison he has gone downhill. She said she had seen him recently and was shocked by the change because he looked like an old man. She said he could not eat or sleep and the noise in prison is making it worse for him. She also said that the pain in his back had returned.

During his stay in the City Hospital in Belfast, cancerous lumps were removed from Mr. Kelly's armpits and shadows were found on both lungs. Paddy Kelly's partner informed me this afternoon that she spoke on the telephone with him this morning. He had a scan completed last Friday and is now on pain killers for his cancer. He had blood tests taken yesterday but the doctor who carried out these tests is not happy with the results and more blood tests are being taken this afternoon. He is also suffering from extreme stress and he is not eating or sleeping.

A representative of the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas visited him in England and in the City Hospital, Belfast, and sent us all a briefing document dated 1 March expressing deep concern about his condition. No good can be served by the British Home Office not responding in a humane way. While the republican prisoner issue has a key role in the peace process, the representations this Government can make on Paddy Kelly's case stand on humanitarian grounds alone.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Spring): At the outset I pay tribute to the Senator for the strong commitment he and his parliamentary party colleagues have shown for the welfare of republican prisoners in Britain. Their visits to the prisoners in September last year and January this year are solid evidence of their concern, which I know is widely shared in both Houses of the Oireachtas.

For my part, I want to reiterate the Government's conviction that prisons [1525] issues are of key importance in the broader context of the peace process. They will continue to be fully discussed with the British authorities through the framework of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. They are also raised on an ongoing basis through our Embassy in London and the Anglo-Irish Secretariat. As has been stated on previous occasions, we stand ready to receive those republican prisoners who have applied for transfer to prison in this jurisdiction. The papers in a number of cases have already been fully processed on our side and returned to the British authorities.

The specific case raised by the Senator has been a matter of concern for the Government, particularly since his medical condition came to our attention. It has been pursued on numerous occasions with the British authorities through the Irish Embassy in London and the secretariat. I raised the matter in the framework of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference as recently as last Friday and the Taoiseach has also raised it with the Prime Minister, Mr. Major in recent days. The prisoner in question was visited twice by an Embassy official in the course of his time in prison in England and officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs have also kept in contact with his legal representatives and family.

I am aware there is widespread public concern about this prisoner. His case was the subject of an Adjournment debate in the Dáil last week and the concern is not confined to this country; it extends to political, religious and legal circles in Britain. As the Senator will recall, this prisoner, while protesting against conditions in which he was being held in Whitemoor Prison in England, was hospitalised for treatment in August 1995. He resumed the protest following his return to prison, and further representations by the Embassy, and the threat of legal action by his lawyers, eventually led to his recategorisation [1526] and removal from the strict security regime under which he had been held for over four months. This facilitated the ending of the protest and the restoration of family visits. The prisoner was transferred to Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland in December 1995.

Unfortunately, these positive developments have been overshadowed by renewed concerns over his medical condition which emerged at the end of last month. Consistent with our earlier representations in this regard, the case was immediately raised again with the British authorities to convey our serious concern over the apparent deterioration in his condition. I assure the Senator that since then, officials of both the Irish Embassy in London and the Anglo-Irish Secretariat have had further contacts with their British counterparts on this matter. As I said, I raised the matter in the course of my meeting with the Secretary of State, Sir Patrick Mayhew, last week and will have the opportunity of doing so again this afternoon. The Taoiseach has also discussed the case with Mr. Major in recent days. I understand that a further medical examination of Mr. Kelly was carried out at the behest of the British authorities last Friday and the results are now awaited.

A key aspect of this case is the fact that the prisoner in question has applied for a transfer to a prison in this jurisdiction under the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. As I emphasised in the Dáil last week, we stand ready to receive him into this jurisdiction as soon as the British authorities consent to the move. If the worst fears which have been voiced over his health are confirmed, it is the Government's firm position that the prisoner should be allowed to spend as much time as possible close to his family in County Laois in the period ahead. This could be achieved either by way of transfer to this jurisdiction or by a decision by the British authorities to release him on compassionate grounds.

[1527] As regards the wider prisoners issue, the Government will continue to emphasise the importance of proceeding in a humane and constructive manner. Careful note has been taken of the difficulties and concerns outlined in the report prepared by Senator Neville and his colleagues following their most recent visit to the prisoners in Britain. The Embassy in London has arranged a meeting with the British authorities in the near future where issues highlighted in that report will be among those raised.

In the meantime, I assure Senator Neville that we will continue to monitor the case very closely in the period ahead. Compassionate handling of cases of this kind is crucial in terms of building the confidence which both Governments have agreed is needed to advance our shared objectives in the wider context of the peace process. It would serve to recognise the important role played by prisoners in the process and encourage those who are seeking to restore the cessation of violence announced in August 1994.

The Mitchell report pointed out that continued action by the Governments on prisoners would bolster trust. Senators will be aware that, within the constraints of the security situation, the Irish Government has taken a constructive approach to prisoner issues. Both Governments have again recognised in paragraph 12 of the communiqué of 28 February that confidence building measures will be necessary. In the view of the Irish Government, a key component in such measures is a constructive approach to prisoner issues.

As we prepare for the all-party negotiations which will be convened on 10 June, a compassionate approach to the particular case in question would certainly serve the cause of peace. It should be addressed urgently both because of its potentially damaging impact on confidence and for the basic humanitarian [1528] reasons outlined by the Senator and other Members of the Oireachtas in recent days. I can assure the House that the Government will continue to urge such an approach on the British authorities.