Despite having his hands full outmanoeuvring the censors who have sought to eradicate his presence on the internet, Pat Buckley recently blogged a piece that should raise concerns within a society which, while highly tuned to institutional abuse, seems tone death when such abuse is alleged to have taken place within the North's prisons.
“I hadn’t heard of this death, until now,” said one commenter on the Buckley piece, written in March. As the death took place last August this would indicate something subterranean about these things. The comment was in reference to 22 year old Lurgan man, Daniel McConville, who died while a prisoner in Maghaberry. At the time of his death he had been on remand on charges of possession of a small quantity of cannabis resin. According to Buckley, Daniel McConville had a mental age of 16.
Prison management, which has not yet established a reputation for being a reliable source in such matters, has claimed the young prisoner took his own life. Perhaps. It is not uncommon for vulnerable people to end their own lives in prison when the pressure of an unwelcoming environment becomes too much. A worrying enough development given the question posed by Pat Buckley:
Why was an immature and unwell young man placed in a high security prison for having a small amount for personal use?Despite the claim of death as a result of suicide, Daniel McConville's father feels he has grounds for a belief that his son was beaten to death by prison staff. Perhaps. It is not uncommon for prison staff to resort to violence as a means of maintaining control. It seems a universal trait of the profession. Today, there are still claims that republican prisoners are being attacked by prison staff. Sean McVeigh recently appeared in court with signs of bruising and swelling, alleged by Saoradh to have been sustained during the applications of prison staff violence.
When the former deputy governor of Long Kesh, Tom Murtagh, accused erstwhile blanket man, Robert McClenaghan, of "dishonest portrayal" of brutality in the H Blocks during the blanket protest, it rang as authentic as some Catholic cardinal denying the prevalence of child rape. Any of the hundreds of people on the same protest as McClenaghan will bear witness to the accuracy of his claims.
In an age where institutional abuse is under serious scrutiny, not a solitary state investigation into the brutality of the Northern Irish Prison Service is taking place. For all the talk of legacy inquiries, the prisons seem a no go area. The Catholic Church in Ireland has cause to feel discriminated against on the grounds that a serious rival in the field of abuse has long been a recipient of a free pass.
The only way to attain clarity and closure for the family of Daniel McConville is for the "thorough and open investigation" called for by Pat Buckley. Prison staff might not have been culpable in any way for the death of Daniel McConville, but given the paucity of credibility associated with prison management discourse around these matters, society should only believe official prison statements as readily as it would the outpourings from cardinals.