Northern Ireland news

Former IRA 'blanket man' to launch jail cancer case

Former republican prisoner Paul McGlinchey believes he may have been exposed to chemicals that cause cancer while serving a sentence in the H-Blocks
Connla Young

A former republican prisoner who is fighting cancer believes chemicals used to clean cells in the 1970s may have caused the disease.

Paul McGlinchey said he is concerned about cleaning agents used during the ‘no-wash’ protest in the H-Blocks.

The 59-year-old recently received treatment for cancer in the lungs, bones and spine.

Mr McGlinchey was one of the fist IRA prisoners to go 'on the blanket' after being sentenced for possession of arms as an 18-year-old in 1976.

The protest involved prisoners, dressed only in blankets, smearing their own excrement on cell walls as part of a campaign for political status.

Mr McGlinchey, who is believed to have been the longest-serving blanket man, recently wrote a book, Truth will Out, which mainly focused on his time in the high-security prison.

He said a large number of prisoners who took part in the protest have since been diagnosed with cancer, which has resulted in the deaths of some.

He claimed that during the protest prison staff dressed in protective clothing regularly washed down cell walls using unknown chemicals.

Mr McGlinchey, who is a brother of murdered INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey, said former prisoners want the full facts to made public.

“This has nothing to do with compensation,” he said.

“All we want is the truth.”

He said details of the type of chemicals used to clean cells need to be revealed.

“We don’t know what they threw in the cells. That’s why we need an investigation.”

Former blanket man Tony O’Hara, whose brother Patsy died on hunger strike in 1981, also said an unknown chemical used to be placed outside cell windows which had been broken.

He claimed the white compound created a choking effect and burned prisoners' eyes and authorities should “list the chemicals they were using”.

“The public have a right to know what was used in the prisons and what harm it did to prisoners and staff.”

Solicitor Aiden Carlin said he is currently preparing a civil case.

“This is an historic allegation about the mistreatment of prisoners in Long Kesh and there seems to be an arguable case that the chemicals used to clean the cells can be linked to the deterioration of the health of ex-blanket men and Armagh women in particular.

“We are at the stage of preparing a civil action.”

The Prison Service declined to comment.

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