Saturday, 20 June 2015

By Act or Omission.

As a keen blogger I find it easy to write about issues that you know will spark interest yet not so easy to highlight issues that show up your own inactivity as a social justice activist.

Having caught up with my reading this morning I began to notice a pattern in the number of statements released highlighting medical neglect in a location you won't find in any tourist brochure, the north's Maghaberry prison.

In 2009 Prison inspectors Dame Anne Owers and Dr Michael McGuire said “Maghaberry Prison was one of the most “expensive prisons” to run yet one of the “worst in the UK.” As you will see this was no exaggeration on their part.

The first statement I read was in relation to a republican prisoner named Ta McWilliams who on May 31st was handcuffed and transferred by ambulance to the emergency department at the Ulster Hospital. Ta, who has a documented history of heart trouble was suffering chest pains and presenting other symptoms associated with heart failure.

Whilst undergoing a battery of tests to establish the severity of his condition Ta remained handcuffed to one of three prison staff who were present at all times, even as he used bathroom facilities. It must also be noted that Ta McWilliams was so weak he was unable to undergo one of the tests required at the hospital.

14 hours after arriving at the hospital he requested that the handcuffs be removed due to the increased discomfort, this was refused by senior prison authorities. On his return to prison several hours later in a weakened state Ta McWilliams was forcibly strip searched. This search was justified on the basis of prison policy despite him being handcuffed to a member of prison staff for the duration of his time in hospital.

In a second scenario republican Prisoner Seamus McGuigan was taken to hospital suffering from rising blood pressure. On examination it was discovered that Seamus had suffered a mini stroke. Naturally Seamus requested a phone call to his family to put their minds at ease, his request was denied leaving Seamus with no option but to discharge himself back to the care of Maghaberry. Despite being accompanied at all times and having suffered a mini-stoke Seamus just like Ta Williams was brutally and forcibly strip searched when he returned to Maghaberry.

In another article I learned of the disgraceful treatment of republican prisoner Terry McConnell who is due to be released from prison in the near future.

Terry was diagnosed with an Arteriovenous Malformation on his Brain, a condition akin to a brain aneurism. Despite this Terry has received inadequate medical attention in Maghaberry, with every improvement in the treatment he receives coming as the outcome of legal challenges. In addition to this Terry has attended medical appointments handcuffed even when being advised on how his condition had escalated to the point were there was 10% risk of him having a stroke and haemorrhaging. With Terry at immediate risk, to get information on when he was scheduled for brain surgery too required a high court challenge.

The ill treatment and neglect of prisoners health and wellbeing isn't a recent development within Maghaberry under the management of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS). In September 2002 Annie Kelly completed suicide in Mourne House Women’s Unit. Following her inquest Professor Phil Scraton of Queen’s University, one of the co-authors of the Human Rights Commission recent report on women in prison, had this to say:

“Our research findings were clear that Annie should not have been in prison but in a therapeutic environment, and the jury endorsed this. However, in terms of international human rights standards, the Northern Ireland Prison Service failed institutionally in its duty of care, the conditions subjected her to inhumane and degrading treatment and, ultimately, her safety was compromised. It is clear from this tragic case that the Coroner’s recommendations, after the death in Mourne House of Janet Holmes in 1996, had not been taken seriously by the Prison Service.”

Last year a young Derry man suffering from mental health issues was left permanently blind after he gouged out his eyes cut his wrists and mutilated his testicles whilst supposedly under the supervision of medical staff in Maghaberry prison. Also last year a prison officer admitted negligence over the death of a prisoner Colin Bell who took his own life in Maghaberry, despite being on suicide watch.

These cases demonstrate how little has improved following the death of both Janet Holmes and Annie Kelly. This is something that even the judiciary are beginning to recognise. In December 2014 Mr Justice Weir, a High Court Judge said;

 'Medical treatment available to prisoners in Northern Ireland is not up to the required standards' after a prisoner with epilepsy was left lying in his cell for 45mins without medical treatment. Justice Weir went further saying:

"I think it's lamentable, because if you're a prisoner you don't have the same opportunity that you do if you're in the community to go to a hospital or to go to a doctor to get help - you're depending on help being provided for you."

"Therefore the care provided in the prison should be of the very highest quality. I'm afraid that it doesn't seem that it is. "People who are in prison need to be properly looked after and they are not being properly looked after."

The NIPS and the Stormont Justice Department have repeatedly failed in the their responsibilities, their facilities and their provision of services are not fit for purpose. I can only marvel at the fact that the RQIA, the Independent Health and Social Care Regulatory body for Northern Ireland haven't been given a permanent base there.

Prisoners are human beings, yet to attend medical appointments under prison staff supervision they are double handcuffed and subjected to forced strip searching in the way in and out of the north's top security prison. If animals were being treated in this way there would be a mass outcry, yet the silence around what appears to be the north's best kept secret remains deafening.

A prison sentence does not negate a person's human rights. Prisoners have the right to adequate medical attention. This right is protected under UK law with a Prisoner entitled to receive the care they would in the community. Additionally Prisoners are also protected under article three of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides for the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment.

The treatment outlined above does not comply with domestic or international standards and therefore serves to demonstrate a systematic failure and unacceptable level of neglect by our justice system.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

This is Riduckulous!

A few days ago I read a statement from a Belfast residents group who with their supporters raised concerns over the introduction of what they termed "pay, play facilities". These fenced off facilities are planned for a green space on which children currently play freely.

This scenario brought me back a few years to the Galliagh Concerned Residents Group. Within this group myself and others raised concerns over the way the community was being run and on how a number of unaccountable groups were intent on riding roughshod over the wishes of community members. For me a central bone of contention stemmed from the proposal to introduce facilities to the area that would incur a cost, a cost that many residents can ill afford.

Over the past months I have heard more and more people in the community raise similar concerns over the need to pay to use the facilities, namely sports pitches. These pitches remain under lock and key despite being delivered to the area in the name of local children, children who spend more time looking in with only an occasional time slot available to them. It must be noted, prior to the introduction of these facilities generations of children played happily and freely on the same green area, yet today thanks to high fencing, astro turf, gate keepers and funding this play has been restricted with the area completely fenced off. Now whilst I'm not saying a very expensive 3g pitch should be left lying open at all times, a grass pitch should be open for local children to play freely on.

Recently this situation has been compounded by the introduction of an open air gym to the same area. This gym remains under lock and key with users charged £20.00 per month or £2.50 per session despite this gym being funded via the public purse to the tune of £70,000. So with this gym built utilising public money why are people in an area of high deprivation expected to pay?

I suppose they could start charging you to leave!!!
I asked this same question of the Public Health Agency yesterday and was told the following;

 "The PHA were not aware that there would be a levy applied for the unsupervised use of the equipment and this would not be the policy with other outdoor gyms funded by the PHA". 

 This was also confirmed at the opening of the gym when Mayor, Cllr McCallion stated;
 What I particularly like about this scheme is the fact that its free to use and the scheduled activities are aimed at all ends of the ability spectrum making fitness and exercise accessible to all.

For those content to duck questions on this issue, I have one very pertinent question; What part of free do you not understand?

Clearly the community should be given free access to this gym with anyone choosing to avail of additional services charged accordingly.There are many outdoor gyms across the north and guess what, they're free to use! I've always thought of Derry as a very unique place to live, and hey, we're so unique we'll charge you for something many other people get for free. 

Derry has the highest rates, highest unemployment rate and the highest cost to use a free gym...This is just riduckulous!!!!

The links below show how these gyms are free to use in other areas:

Monday, 8 June 2015

Indirectly Ruling By Fooling.

In a land not so far away, sits a big house on a hill, this house is known locally among the poor who live in it's shadow as Stormont. In this house lurks a phantom 'government' who are in possession of a phantom budget and wielding a giant axe to decimate services the poor people rely on. In addition to this is what appears to be a process of self-deception which involves convincing oneself of a truth or lack of so that one does not divulge any knowledge of this deception. You see this process of self-deception ties in with how the people in this big house have become friends with their one time big bad enemy. This new found friendship for some is considered unrealistic whereas others regard it as insulting and insensitive. Those who raise concerns over these actions are regarded as anti-peace process, anti-progress, anti-mainstream and in some cases anti-GAA.

As with many tales this sordid story contains a queen, her servants, the rich, the reckless and as always the poor peasants. The poor in this story are sadly bracing themselves to bear the brunt of the phantom budget with the queens more senior servants expected to do the work of the phantom politicians in the near future. Meanwhile the phantom politicians roam the marble halls of Stormont sucking expenses like vampires suck blood as they continue their work with trying to normalise an abnormal situation and with promoting a process that puts reconciliation before truth and justice.

Just yesterday the Stormont Assembly speaker Mitchel McLaughlin in the company of the Sinn Fein Mayor for Derry/Strabane laid a wreath at the cenotaph in Derry to commemorate the Battle of Messines in 1917. After the event McLaughlin had this to say. "The assembly represents everybody and every shade of opinion in our community as well and as the speaker I have the responsibility to speak for all of them." With these words in mind I hope to see Mitchel and the Mayor at the next Bloody Sunday March in support of the poor who continue to campaign for justice despite cuts to legal aid. Cuts which are undermining the rule of law 800 years after the sealing of the Magna Carta which promised;

 ‘To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.’

As the poor await the outcome of other decisions effecting them the phantom politicians appear to be either suffering from electile dysfunction or are deluded enough to think that poor will continue to believe that they actively opposed further cuts despite their ongoing implementation and welfare reform which has already been agreed. With the tension on this issue mounting as you would expect a little bit of deflection has taken place. Just the other day the Irish national flag miraculously appeared on the roof top of Stormont and hey presto it became the main feature in local news broadcasts.

A similar tactic was employed prior to the announcement to abolish the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. During this time the limiting of flying the union flag from Belfast's city hall to designated days was stirred up resulting in weeks of mayhem. This mayhem over a nine week period cost the tax payer over £15 million to police.  Still we are told the coffers of the kingdom are not infinite.

I can't help but think that this money coupled with the money used to police the Twadell protest camp could have been better spent with an estimated £40,000 still spent weekly on policing Twadell. This money could have been used to fill the gap in the legacy investigations budget, with state forces suspected of war crimes still free to roam the streets unimpeded. In contrast senior citizens here such as Ivor Bell are to face prosecution on the strength of historical audio accounts despite there being no way of testing the veracity of these accounts. The disparity here beggars belief but then it shouldn't with the scales of justice clearly weighted in favour of the kingdom and it's supporters.

You see in this grim story the kingdom is built on the politics of orange and green. Phantom politics which are not only deflective but divisive. These politics help portray as a nation of sectarian muck savages and shift our focus from things that really matter . Things that effect us all whether orange, green or a recent addition to our increasingly multicultural society. Things like the closure of over 100 schools in less than eight years as well as individual cases of inhuman and degrading treatment within our healthcare emergency departments. 

Yet as the poor become poorer and continue to accept less than they deserve the phantom politicians in the house on the hill get to experience their happy ever after, through their endless piece/peace process.

As you may have guessed this aint no fairytale!!!