High Court challenge brought over reduction of prisoner visits due to Covid-19

Portlaoise prisoner Kevin Hannaway says his human rights have been breached

Kevin Hannaway (71) is serving a sentence of three years and nine months at the maximum security Portlaoise Prison after being jailed for assisting IRA “interrogations”. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Kevin Hannaway (71) is serving a sentence of three years and nine months at the maximum security Portlaoise Prison after being jailed for assisting IRA “interrogations”. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A prisoner has brought a High Court challenge over restrictions on prison visits.

Kevin Hannaway (71) is serving a sentence of three years and nine months at the maximum security Portlaoise Prison after being jailed for assisting IRA “interrogations”. He claims a decision by the Prison Service, arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic, halving the number of visits a prisoner can receive from a family member or friend and reducing their duration, breaches his rights.

He was convicted in the Special Criminal Court in 2018 for rendering assistance to an unlawful organisation, the IRA, to carry out interrogations of other members following a series of operations foiled by gardaí.

The non-jury court heard the IRA wanted to know who was responsible for leaking information. This resulted in a number of men being brought to a house, where Hannaway and others were present, at Riverwood Park, Castleknock, Dublin on August 7th/8th, 2015, for interrogation.

Hannaway, from Belfast, is one of a group known as the “hooded men”, who suffered psychological trauma following their treatment at the hands of the British army in 1971. The European Court of Human Rights determined their treatment amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.

In his High Court action, Hannaway claims that under prison rules, a prisoner is entitled to at least one weekly visit from a relative or friend of not less than 30 minutes of duration. He claims that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, family visits to prisoners were halted earlier this year.

He claims the Irish Prison Service announced last June it was allowing visits to resume, but it limited the frequency to one visit a fortnight, for no longer than 15 minutes.

Eamon Dornan told the court on Monday that the restrictions breach prison rules and his client’s rights. Hannaway claims, arising from his treatment in the 1970s, he continues to suffer from anxiety attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and heart problems. He relies upon visits from family members, who travel from Belfast to see him, he says.

In judicial review proceedings against the Irish Prison Service and the Minister for Justice, he wants orders quashing the service’s decision last June regarding visits and compelling it to take measures to ensure the frequency and duration of renewed visits comply with the prison rules. He further seeks a declaration that any restrictions on his rights to family visitation must have regard to his rights under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. He also claims damages.

Mr Justice Anthony Barr granted Hannaway’s application for leave to bring his challenge and returned the matter to November.