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Republican prisoners complain of living in 'Victorian' conditions

A support group for republican prisoners has called on prison authorities to address conditions at Portlaoise.

A GROUP REPRESENTING republican prisoners has said that inmates at Portlaoise Prison are living in squalid conditions without adequate medical care.

Prisoners at the facility’s notorious E block have had no access to a regular doctor for several months, according to Cogús, which campaigns for republican prisoners on both sides of the border.

The group said dampness and pigeon infestation have put many cells in the block beyond use.

Prisoners have no access to adequate cleaning materials to wash and disinfect the block, it claimed, while raw sewerage runs down pipes at separate landings.

Cogús has also criticised the continuing practice of slopping out, which requires prisoners without in-cell sanitation to use buckets at night.

This photo provided by the group shows a sink it describes as being at the end of a landing where prisoners without in-cell sanitation empty their chamber pots through a sluice.

Portlaoise 2 Source: Cogús

“Men have to use the sink to wash their chamber pots and then their hands when they’re doing that,” Declan Carroll of Cogús told TheJournal.ie.

A prison source who saw the photo said he thought it was likely taken in a disused area of the prison, but Cogús insists that the sink is regularly used by inmates.

Portlaoise is one of the only Irish prisons not to have yet abolished the practice of slopping out, which has long been condemned by domestic and international advocacy groups.

According to the most recent prison census in July 2015, the cells of some 32 inmates in at Portlaoise are still without toilets.

Another unverified photo provided by the group shows a dilapidated showering area it says prisoners use on a daily basis.

Its ceiling, Carroll said, “has been in a state of erosion for a considerable time, resulting in the plaster falling down sometimes while the men are showering”.

Portlaoise 1 Source: Cogús

Visit request

Clare Daly TD told the Dáil last week that prison authorities have not responded to several requests to allow a cross-party delegation visit Portlaoise following protests over food standards there in September.

The issue is one of several “very serious” concerns that prison authorities need to address, according to Daly.

“We asked to visit at the end of September and have been pursuing the request ever since,” she told TheJournal.ie.

We believe this is highly unusual given that we can pick up the telephone and organise a visit to Maghaberry at very, very short notice.

Daly added: “Given the urgency of the situation and the fact that there was protest activity in Portlaoise, it’s very strange to us that the [Irish Prison Service] have not dealt with the substantive issue of our request, while obviously they have acknowledged our correspondence and said they will deal with it.”

Planned improvements

In a statement responding to prisoners’ complaints, the Prison Service said that E block improvements have been included in a proposed 2017 refurbishment project for Portlaoise.

The plan will include a commitment to abolishing slopping out, a spokesperson said, though it is not clear when this will be achieved by.

The spokesperson added that issues raised about the provision of GP services in recent months have “since been resolved” and that the prison’s 28-day food menu is currently being “revised”.

Works are also planned to address water problems in the block’s toilet areas, including a deep clean of all areas affected by dampness and water leaks, the spokesperson said.

Read: Documentary looks into life in Mountjoy Prison

Read: Prison officers admit they don’t know what to do with prison gangs

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Catherine Healy

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