Man claims human rights breached by 'slopping out' at Portlaoise prison

 

A MAN who served a jail term for IRA membership has brought a High Court action claiming his human rights were breached by the “slopping out” regime in Portlaoise Prison.

Seán Mulligan (58), a native of Carmalughogue, Co Louth, who was sentenced in December 2002 to five years’ imprisonment for IRA membership, claims he was degraded and humiliated by being forced to use a five-inch deep “potty” to defecate and urinate in while in his cell. He is seeking damages for alleged breaches of his rights, under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights, to respect for his privacy and not to be subject to degrading treatment.

The case is against the governor of Portlaoise, the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform, the Prisons Service and the Attorney General, who deny the claims.

Paul O’Higgins, for Mr Mulligan, said the slopping out issue had been a “running sore” since it was raised at the UN Committee on the Prevention of Torture in 1994. Despite an undertaking in 1999 by the prison authorities that the problem would be dealt with, by May 2004, when Mr Mulligan was locked up for 22 hours a day, nothing other than “lip service” had been paid to that promise, counsel said.

The court heard yesterday a new wing with in-cell sanitation opened in Portlaoise prison last month.

The case is being heard by Mr Justice John MacMenamin, who heard the potty was very difficult for a man to use. Some of its contents would invariably spill out, Mr Mulligan claims. These unhygienic conditions were worsened by the fact he had to use it in a badly ventilated 12 ft by 6 ft cell, in which he had to eat and sleep.

“Slopping out” the potty each morning meant carrying it on to a landing where he claimed, no matter how hard he tried, he would get splashed with its contents. The potty’s contents had to be poured into a sluice and washed down with a tap, whereby one could also get splashed, he said.

Some prisoners who did not want to keep the potty in their cells overnight defecated into a newspaper and threw it out their windows into the yard, the court heard. Mr Mulligan said this meant it was difficult to avoid walking on excrement while out exercising, despite efforts by authorities to have it cleaned up. It was “almost impossible” not to carry it back into his cell on his shoes after exercising, he said.

He became concerned at the effect the lack of in-cell sanitation would have on his health and feared picking up diseases including TB and Hepatitis A.

Mr Mulligan, who previously served a sentence in Portlaoise in the 1970s and 1980s, said the slopping out had caused him worry and anxiety since the first time he was in prison. It meant he was forced to use a toilet at times when he was outside his cell, resulting in him developing haemorrhoids and other problems requiring surgery.

As a result of a prisoners’ protest in May 2004, Mr Mulligan was placed in 22-hour-per-day “close confinement” for 28 days where unhygienic conditions worsened, he said. He brought separate successful judicial review proceedings over this at the time in which a judge found the punishment had been unlawfully applied.