The Blanket

Listen Rather Than Punish

Anthony McIntyre • 22/8/2002

That republican prisoner Ciaran McLaughlin returned to prison after being released on compassionate parole is as expected as it is welcome. Freed for a twelve hour period to attend the funeral of his grandchild, Kyle McMonaghle, the leader of the republican prisoners in Maghaberry initially did not report back to prison authorities once his leave had expired. The same authorities placed the parolee’s details on its website and sent out an alert. However, the republican prisoner eventually presented himself at property owned by clergy stating that he had stayed out in order to take ‘the extra time I had requested.’ He had initially asked for seventy two hours which the prison authorities refused.

Despite having honoured the terms of two previous compassionate leaves the Derry man had also been refused permission to be with his grandchild when it became clear that the two year old had only hours of his short life left to live.

Few would dispute that Ciaran McLaughlin violated prison rules. That he did so with little to gain and plenty to lose in terms of retribution from a vindictive prison administration raises questions which need answers rather than self-righteous indignation from those in charge of prison policy. His motive was hardly selfish given that he returned. And no one has yet said that his behaviour while out posed any threat to either the state or society.

The history of the British penal system in the North of Ireland over the past thirty three years has been one which remains unintelligible if not read through a prism of jailed republicans challenging and violating unjust prison rules. Denis Faul once described Bobby Sands as the greatest prison reformer of the 20th century. As a result of republican protest the prison regime has been modified and its administrators pulled away by the roots from their essentially brutal management procedures and towards the more enlightened and humane regime envisaged by people like Bobby Sands. In order to minimise systemic violence and humanise its perpetrators, protest and a flagrant disregard for the rules, as well as being at times the only weapon in the prisoners’ armoury, proved indispensable. Disobedience was the engine driving the push for change and improved human rights standards. 12 hours parole to attend the funeral of a loved one is an insult and a major infringement of human dignity. Ciaran McLaughlin’s peaceful attempt to highlight it is perfectly understandable.

In a typical fit of the pique displayed by a bureaucrat scorned, a spokesperson for the prison administration described McLaughlin’s parole violation as a serious matter which would be dealt with appropriately by the prison governor. The same spokesperson went on to threaten that this incident would negatively impact on any future parole applications. Behind the bureaucratic jargon this simply means that all other prisoners can expect to become the victims of a collective punitive measure.

Few will be surprised by such a knee jerk response. It is hardly atypical of bureaucrats in their little fiefdoms of power. And their memory seems as 'great' as their intellect. Throughout imprisonment compassionate parole was always considered a right by republican prisoners and a weapon by the authorities. Those of us on the Blanket protest remember clearly Seamus Finucane being told he could attend his father’s funeral in 1978 if he would leave the protest. We also recall the insensitivity of a prison governor who informed Seamy Kearney in 1979 that his brother was dead by asking ‘have you a brother called Michael? Well, he’s Michael no more.’ Neither were freed, yet, republicans always persevered.

In the early 1970s not long after Billy McKee had, through a prolonged hunger strike, secured political status for loyalist and republican prisoners alike, Jim Scullion - a future IRA leader in Long Kesh - and others took part in a 35 day hunger strike to win compassionate parole for those prisoners whose families lived across the border. Republicans had a history of honouring their paroles. When an Ardoyne republican lifer in the mid 1970s returned to prison many hours late from the funeral of a family member he was expelled from the republican cages by the IRA leadership within the prison. While many of the bereaved prisoner’s comrades felt the sanction was too harsh, the camp leadership felt they had no choice such was the sensitivity of the issue.

In real terms the expulsion did little to assuage the vengeful appetite of the prison administration. In 1977 they seized their chance and refused compassionate parole to another Ardoyne republican lifer on the death of his mother. This heralded the start of a five year moratorium on compassionate parole for lifers that was only conditionally lifted after the 1981 hunger strikes which kick started the tentative beginning of a thaw in cold management procedures.

By 1983, the moratorium was re-imposed after Davy Allen, a loyalist lifer and Gerard McCrory, a republican serving a similar sentence failed to return from their compassionate paroles. It took until the mid 1980s before matters began to improve and then only after much lobbying and the application of pressure.

The prison administration can expect nothing but trouble if the vindictiveness contained in the statement of its spokesperson who commented on Ciaran McLaughlin’s protest is allowed to translate into policy. The treatment of republican prisoners is always a volatile tinderbox. If wiser counsel within the higher echelons of prison management allows its minions-cum-spokespeople to run around unsupervised with inflammatory intent, they can hardly feign surprise at the resulting conflagration.

Those tasked with running the jails should view Ciaran McLaughlin not as a prisoner lost but a lesson learned. A much more liberal approach toward compassionate parole and a willingness to understand rather than punish prisoners will go a long way toward obviating the grievances of bereaved and, consequently, acutely sensitive people.






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If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good.
- Thomas J. Watson, Jr

Index: Current Articles

22 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Listen Rather Than Punish
Anthony McIntyre


To Hell With the True Believers
Newton Emerson


Merger Mania
Ciarán Irvine


Interface Workers Snubbed
Billy Mitchell


A Vibrant Feile
Sean Smyth


RIRA & CIRA: No Support and Going Nowhere?
Liam O Ruairc


18 August 2002


Unidentified Mob Rule
Aine Fox


The West Belfast Feile
Newton Emerson


The Most Useless, Most Spineless, Most Pointless of Them All
Ciarán Irvine


North Belfast: A Resident's View
Joan Totten


A Tawny Sinew
Anthony McIntyre


Deepest Sympathy


Ahmed Al Kouraini
Sam Bahour


A Personal Voyage of Taboo

Davy Carlin


Reading Connolly
Liam O Ruairc




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