Hang ‘em High

The Irish penal system should reflect the fact that we are a modern democracy and should be defined by principles of dignity and justice. Decision-making in the penal system should be characterised by accountability and transparency. The way we treat offenders at present is far too frequently shameful, whereas it should be a matter of national pride – Irish Penal Reform Trust

For once Kevin Myers has pleased rather than annoyed most people. He must feel somewhat out of place with the adulation he has been receiving since last Tuesday’s article in the Indo having a go at Geoffrey Evans. Evans incurred the wrath of Myers by receiving heart by-pass surgery financed from the public purse in Dublin’s Mater Hospital. Now it has to be said that even if Kevin Myers is bathing in the reverence he has been showered under he is hardly a seeker of it. It is that which makes him such a great writer. He is not afraid to offend. Greatness is not, as is held in some quarters, something reserved alone for those writers we agree with.

Readers of the Indo, unless I am hopelessly optimistic, will have been relieved to find out that Myers is not opposed to by pass surgery in general but to the type of people who actually get it in some cases. The recipient in question on this occasion is an English murder-rapist who has served more than 30 years of a life sentence for the brutal slayings of two young Irish women, Elizabeth Plunkett and Mary Duffy, back in the 1970s. Those of us grey enough to recall the events remember just how horrific the killings were and the sense of public outrage they gave rise to. Evans and an accomplice John Shaw, suitable candidates for the British Army, chose to carry out their killing spree on the Southern side of the border where they thought they stood a better chance of avoiding retribution than the average squaddie up North. With 30 years time for reflection they might now ruefully conclude that they should have taken their chances in the North. Soldiers certainly got killed there but very few ever went to jail for murder. Out of those who did there are none behind bars 3 decades later.

A failure on the part of Irish authorities to comply with extradition requests from Britain for Shaw and Evans on earlier charges is blamed by Kevin Myers for allowing them a period of freedom during which they murdered both women. The context for such non-compliance lies in a political establishment willing to go to ‘almost any lengths to avoid sending IRA terrorists to Britain for trial.’ While Myers is right in pointing out there was a reluctance to extradite republicans to British jurisdiction the government did in the end extradite more republicans than the British ever convicted members of the British Army of murder. And there is a serious ethical question looming large over any consideration on whether to extradite republicans to the British when the source of the evidence against them were those who failed to do anything about British Army murders.

It would be unfair to blame Kevin Myers for having caused an outbreak of flog and hang syndrome even if he might welcome it. He has merely tapped into the prevalent culture that is out there. Listening to a discussion, in which Myers was involved, on Matt Cooper’s Last Word on the evening of his column’s publication, there was overwhelming backing for his contention that Geoffrey Evans should have been denied any treatment. Myers actually expressed the hope that Evans would not pull through from the coma he had slipped into following his operation. Capital punishment by medical deprivation.

There is no doubt that the crime of Geoffrey Evans was abhorrent. Few have sympathy with the character of the man. But it seems as grave a crime to wilfully withhold life-preserving medical treatment from a seriously ill man. Nowhere in our legal system is provision made for the punishment of those in custody through the withholding of medical intervention. Human rights are for human beings otherwise they are not human rights at all. Or worse, they are human rights and those deemed subhuman are not allowed to avail of them.

Moreover the argument that Evans is being kept in prison courtesy of the tax payer, who must also fork up for his medical treatment, and should therefore be made to pay for his own treatment is bogus. Fact is, everybody in prison is there at the expense of the tax payer. It then follows that all prisoners not paying for their own keep – are there any who do pay? – should be denied treatment. This amounts to little more than a clarion call to discriminate against prisoners and take us back to the era of Paddy Cooney when the then Minister of Justice could publicly state that ‘prisoners have no rights.’ Contrast this with the view of Belfast solicitor Joe Rice commenting on prisons in the North which are much better than their southern counterparts: ‘Some people in prison are among the most vulnerable people in our society and this case demonstrably undermines the need to provide them with the highest standards of professional care.’

Little wonder that there is much that is terrible about the Irish prison system. The former Inspector of Prisons the late Dermot Kinlan described it as an appalling indictment of a so called 'caring society'.

For Kevin Myers and those who back him it is very much ‘what we have we hold.’

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