Jail suicide controversy on agenda at meeting

The family of a local woman who took her own life in Maghaberry Prison have met the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Councillor Chrissie McAuley, who heads the party’s Equality and Human Rights team, to discuss ongoing concerns over the case.

The meeting comes as a key report by the Human Rights Commission on the treatment of women prisoners – thought to be critical of the Prison Service – is due for publication this week.

34-year-old Roseanne Irvine, who had a history of mental illness, hanged herself in Maghaberry Prison on March 3 this year.

Serious questions have been raised over the fact that Roseanne did not see a doctor or a psychiatrist in the five days before her death.

Moreover, she was removed from suicide watch just twenty-four hours before the tragedy.

It is understood that the Irvine family has significant concerns about the actions of various agencies in relation to the arrest, detention and treatment of Roseanne.

Speaking yesterday, following his meeting with the Irvine family, Gerry Adams said it is “a deeply disturbing case”.

“Roseanne’s family believe that her long history of self-harm and personality disorder should have been taken into serious consideration by those who assessed her when she was arrested and that she should not have been placed in a prison.

“I, too, have serious concerns about how Roseanne Irvine ended up in a high-security prison where she took her life; why there was no psychiatric provision in the jail; and why, even though she was supposed to be on a 24-hour suicide watch, she was not under constant surveillance.

“The Prison Service and the Health Service have serious questions to answer in respect of this case,” said Mr Adams.

Last week, a Sinn Féin delegation led by Mr Adams met the Health Minister, Angela Smith, to raise the general issue of resources targeted at the growing problem of suicide in North and West Belfast, as well as the specific issue of Roseanne Irvine’s case.

“I specifically asked Angela Smith to investigate this case, with a particular focus on the mental health legislation governing people with personality disorder, as well as the particular circumstances surrounding Roseanne Irvine’s detention in a prison, as opposed to an appropriate mental health facility.

“One of the matters I discussed with the Irvine family, and which we are seeking legal advice on, is what should be done now to uncover the truth and to ensure that no one else suffers as Roseanne Irvine and her family have. I support them‚” said Mr Adams.

“Roseanne Irvine was the third woman to kill herself in Maghaberry. The women have now been moved to the Hydebank Wood Young Offenders site where it is said living conditions are significantly worse than at Maghaberry.

But it has also emerged that researchers from the Human Rights Commission have been denied access to the women’s section of Hydebank.

“Given the fact that many of these women may be at similar risk of self-harm and possible suicide, this is a disgraceful decision which suggests that the Prison Service is seeking to hide from public scrutiny conditions at Hydebank‚” he added.

Journalist:: Jarlath Kearney

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