Northern Ireland news

Gay rights group to intervene prison sex ban legal challenge

An inmate at Maghaberry Prison challenging a ban on sex and condoms at the facility
Connla Young

A gay rights group is set to intervene in a legal challenge over a ban on sexual contact between inmates and a refusal to allow condoms and other sex aids into the all male prison.

The Irish News revealed earlier this week that lawyers for the life sentence prisoner at Maghaberry argue that a refusal by prison chiefs to allow the items into the jail are in breach of the human rights act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The inmate, who has been granted anonymity, is challenging a failure by the Northern Ireland Prison Service to permit "effective access to preventative measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections".

Among the items requested are condoms, lubricants, dental dams, and disinfectant tablets together with information about sexually transmitted and blood borne infections.

Leave for a judicial has been granted.

One of the main support groups for the LGBT community, The Rainbow Project, said it may join the legal action.

Director John O'Doherty said his organisation has been working on the issue for more than 20 years.

"We are hoping to intervene in the case," he said.

"This an issue we have been working on for 20 years.

"Over the last 10 years I have been directly engaging with the Northern Ireland Prison Service trying to implement a programme of support for LGBTQI+ prisoners.

"I think honestly one of the main barriers to the implementation of that has been around recognising there has been sexual activity among prisoners."

Mr O'Doherty said that health agencies believe prisoners should be given access to information about sexually transmitted infections and sexual health materials.

Legal papers linked to the case reveal that the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, which oversees the running of medical services at Maghaberry, supports the provision of the items requested by the prisoner.

Mr O'Doherty believes prison authorities are reluctant to deal with the reality of prison life.

"There is no rule or regulation anywhere within law or the regulation of the prison service which specifically states that prisoners are not allowed to engage in sexual activity with each other," he said.

"The reluctance and refusal of the prison service to deal with this issue is doing nothing more than harming prisoners who they have a statutory duty to care for."

The prisoner's solicitor Gavin Booth, of Phoenix Law, previously said: "Our client is rightfully pursuing an application for a judicial review following a refusal by the Prison Service to provide him with condoms in order to have safe sex while in prison.

"We are long past the days that this should be a taboo subject when in reality this is a sexual health matter."

A spokesman for the Prison Service said: "‘It would be inappropriate to comment further whilst legal proceedings are ongoing."

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