Northern Ireland

Case of republican prisoner on ‘dirty protest’ in Maghaberry raised in the Dail

Co Derry man Dermot Burke protesting over failure to transfer him to republican wing

Co Derry man Dermot Burke
Co Derry man Dermot Burke

There have been calls for the International Red Cross to provide “medical supervision” in the case of a republican inmate currently on dirty protest in Maghaberry Prison

Dermot Burke, from Dungiven, began smearing excrement on his cell walls around four weeks after prison authorities refused to transfer him to the republican Roe House.

Former Irish government minister Éamon Ó Cuív raised his case in the Dail on Thursday.

The 58-year-old is facing a series of charges arising from an incident in Dungiven in January when three bars in the town were visited by armed and masked men who claimed to be from the ‘IRA’ and issued threats against drug dealers.

The charges he faces include belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation, namely the ‘IRA’, possessing a handgun with intent to cause a person to fear unlawful violence would be used against them and with possessing a weapon.

It is understood prison authorities say he is under threat in Roe House - a claim denied by republicans.

Mr Burke also says MI5 has tried to recruit him as an informer behind bars in recent weeks.

It is understood prison authorities say Mr Burke has failed multiple body scans, however, he has not been moved to a ‘dry cell’, which allows authorities to monitor bowel movements.

Micheal Martin talking
Tánaiste Micheál Martin (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Ó Cuív raised his case with Tánaiste Micheál Martin in the Dail and revealed that Mr Burke has been scanned 18 times.

“He was arrested in January and has been held in solitary confinement,” Mr Ó Cuív said.

“During that period, he has been scanned 18 times by a body scanner, an X-ray body scanner, he has had no visits from family.

“They keep saying that there’s something secreted within his body.”

The Fianna Fáil TD suggested there needs to be independent oversight.

“What I was wondering is, would further representations be made by the government to the authorities for the need to allow independent medical supervision of the next scan so we get to the bottom of this particular case?” he said.

“I’d suggest for example that the International Red Cross could provide that independent medical supervision because they have the capability.”

In response Mr Martin, who is minister for foreign affairs, said he will speak to officials in his department.

“I will talk to my own department officials in relation to these issues in terms of the particular prisoner you have referenced and the fact there has been such extensive scanning,” he said.

Mr Burke’s solicitor Ruairí Muldoon, of McDermott, McGurk and Partners Solicitors, said he and the Independent Assessment Team have both suggested that his client be placed in a ‘dry cell’ or that an independent medical assessment could be carried out.

“The prison authorities have rejected both these suggestions,” he said.

“There appears to be a distinct lack of urgency on the part of the prison authorities to grasp the nettle regarding this very concerning case.”

Paddy Gallagher of the Irish Republican Welfare Association welcomed Mr Ó Cuív’s intervention adding that the support group has “repeatedly stated that this could have been easily remedied simply by moving Dermot to Roe House”.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said: “The Prison Services does not comment on individual prisoners.”