Armagh - barbaric attack on women prisoners - Hands Off Ireland!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no.4 May/June 1980 

Republican women in Armagh jail have, from the start, played a full part in the struggle for POW status. The recent escalation of brutality in Armagh is British imperialism's recognition of this fact.

On 7 February this year the women were violently assaulted by a gang of riot-clad male warders. They were repeatedly kicked and punched. Several were carried spread-eagled before the governor. Since that brutal assault the women – who are allowed to wear their own clothes as all women prisoners in the Six Counties are – have been refused any change of clothes, subjected to 23 hour lock up and treated to every brutality which the limitless sadism of British imperialism can devise. Even the denial of sanitary towels is being used as a weapon to break the resistance of the women!

However, the women, like their comrades in H-Block, are not breaking under this attack. The men in H-Block are defying the most barbaric prison conditions in Europe. They are refusing to submit. It may be that British imperialism believed that an attack on the women could break the united resistance to criminalisation. If so the courageous determination of the women in Armagh jail is proving them wrong.

We reprint below a report on conditions in Armagh which is reprinted from An Phoblacht/Republican News (29/3/80). The report shows clearly how the struggle for POW status is reaching a climax. It is now more urgent than ever that the movement in Britain takes up the cause of the Irish prisoners of war in order to bring to an end imperialist barbarity in the prisons.

CONDITIONS in Armagh jail continue to deteriorate for the thirty-two Republican women prisoners, who since early February have been denied washing and toilet facilities by a prison regime desperate to break their protest for political status. In a smuggled note the prisoners state: ‘The conditions which we are being subjected to are an outrage against human dignity.

On Wednesday 26 March four women prisoners were attacked by warders in the prison yard and suffered bruises and cuts.

On Saturday 29 March a prisoner had her only shirt stolen by male warders. Anne-Marie Quinn (Ballymurphy) had hung her shirt out of the cell window to air, but it was taken by the warders. Despite complaints being made to the governor, several days later the shirt had still not been returned.

On Sunday 30 March while the women were at mass, prison warders entered their cells and in an act of blatant harassment emptied chamber pots over the beds.

Serious

Regular acts of petty harassment by the warders include switching on and off their cell lights, banging on their cell doors and rattling their door-shutters back and forward. The governor, Scott, has also been preventing two women, Dolores O’Neill and Anne Bateson (both South Derry) from getting the regular extra visits which they are entitled to because they are on appeal.

But perhaps the most serious development has occurred with one of the women, Patricia Craig (Downpatrick), contracting a rash called ‘impetigo’. The rash which has started on the side of her face, is spreading rapidly and is highly infectious. Because of her refusal to be ‘criminalised’ Patricia Craig has been denied medical treatment by the prison regime and the prison doctor, Dr Cole.

Smuggled

In a smuggled note dated last Tuesday, 8 April the prisoners state:

‘We have been over here, in ‘A’ wing six weeks now, since being moved from ‘B’ wing and conditions are extremely bad. Our cells are completely covered in excreta and urine. The dust and dirt are building up to a marked degree. When one walks across the cell floor the dust rises up, catching at our chests and throats.

‘We used to have a table, chair and locker in our cells, but the screws removed those and we are now left with just our beds. We have no sheets and no pillow cases – just old dirty grey blankets which are now completely filthy.

‘We ourselves are completely filthy. We have not washed nor have we had any change of clothes since February 7th, so we are in a filthy state.

‘Many girls already have infections which through time will only get worse. Since it is six weeks since we were denied toilet and washing facilities all of us have now gone through our menstrual cycle in these filthy conditions. It is a dangerous time, the risk of infection being very high. Sanitary towels are just thrown into us without wrappings. We have nowhere to dispose of them when used, so they lie amongst the dirt and dust. The medical staff refuse to enter our cells, because of the stench.

‘Although we have combs it is pointless trying to use them because our hair is that thick with dust and dirt, it is impossible to get a comb through it.

‘Our skin has turned a dusty grey, not only because of the dirt but because we are locked in our cells twenty-three hours per day. The windows of our cells are boarded up with large pieces of wood thus allowing little air or daylight through. The lights need to be kept constantly on to enable us to see properly and because of this many girls are complaining of headaches. The spy-holes in our cell doors are also blocked off.

‘As regards the food situation it is a major problem. Breakfast consists of porridge which is so thick and lumpy it is inedible. Bread is rarely seen and if by any chance we do get some, it is stale. Supper consists of one pancake or one sandwich.

‘The quantity and quality of the food is totally inadequate. Many girls have lost weight – weight which they can ill-afford to lose. We are unlocked one at a time to collect our meals and because of this time-consuming method, the majority of the girls’ meals are, by the time they receive them, freezing. We have complained on numerous occasions about the food but to no avail. If this situation continues there can only be serious weight losses amongst the girls.

‘The attitude of the screws is extremely hostile; they are clad in protective clothing, including masks. Quite frequently when a girl is out to collect her meal and the screws think she is talking too long, they drag her back to her cell making sure that they get a good few punches and kicks at her. We are constantly subjected to physical and verbal abuse from the screws.'

 

Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed

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