Jailed Real IRA chief should be freed in wake of cancer surgery, say TDs

Dáil deputies complain “dirty and dusty” prison no place for Michael McKevitt

Five TDs have complained about the conditions in which jailed Real IRA leader Michael McKevitt is being held, and have expressed their “deep concern” he is not on extended temporary release.

The Irish Times understands the group - Éamon Ó Cuív, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, Maureen O'Sullivan and Thomas Pringle - has written to Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald twice in the past fortnight.

They have alleged the decision to keep him in prison during his recovery from recent major surgery was not taken on medical grounds and said McKevitt was also “awaiting further investigations for serious medical complaints”.

“We are very concerned that Mr McKevitt has been returned to Portlaoise where prison conditions, with a high concentration of dirt and dust and a lack of in-cell sanitation, make it a very unsuitable environment for an older citizen with health problems to reside,” the first letter, signed by all five, stated.


‘Humanitarian concerns’

“Our humanitarian concerns are aggravated by the fact that the doctor attached to Portlaoise Prison is absent presently [sic] and there is not regular cover by a locum.

“As you will appreciate, consistency of care is very important for someone with medical conditions such as Mr McKevitt suffers.

“We are formally registering our concerns about his health and would like a full explanation regarding why he has not been granted an extension of temporary release.”

McKevitt’s family claim Ms Fitzgerald gave the instruction for the 65-year-old to be recommitted to prison last week after three months on temporary release.

The fact he had been released for three months, spending most of that period at the family home in Co Louth, had not emerged before now.

The McKevitts are seeking an explanation as to why his temporary release was revoked.

McKevitt was diagnosed with a cancerous growth on his kidney early this year, when it was decided by medical staff at St James Hospital, Dublin, that he required surgery without delay.

His eldest son Stephen McKevitt told The Irish Times his father was granted temporary release on March 14th for a number of days so he could inform his family of his condition and the need for surgery.

While on that period of weekend release in March, his family urged the prison authorities to allow him to remain free on health grounds.

He was granted long-term temporary release, comprised of rolling one-week periods that were extended without interruption.

No conditions

His family said he spent the time at home in Beech Park, Blackrock, with no conditions attached to his release and no security measures put in place.

On May 11th he underwent surgery at St James’s Hospital to have his kidney removed while still on release.

Stephen McKevitt said his father was informed a recovery period of about three months would follow.

However, 5½ weeks later, on June 22nd, he was contacted and asked to attend a medical examination at Portlaoise Prison, when it was decided he would be returned to jail that day.

Stephen McKevitt believes Ms Fitzgerald ordered the move, saying the doctor who examined his father was a “stand-in”who did not have access to his medical files.

He has also said a pre-release programme his father was due to commence this weekend, which is unrelated to his illness, had been cancelled without explanation.

This would have involved McKevitt having periods of temporary release during the nine months that remained of his sentence to prepare him for his release at the expiry of his jail term next Easter.

Last December, McKevitt lost a legal action to be freed immediately.

During the case, which was unrelated to his medical condition, he argued his participation in educational projects in jail qualified him for remission of one third of his sentence under new rules introduced in recent years to encourage and reward rehabilitation.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times