HC Deb 03 May 1867 vol 186 cc1933-4

said, he rose to ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Whether, in consequence of the Report of the Medical Officer of the Mountjoy Convict Prison, that the prisoners confined there under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act were suffering in health from the discipline they were subjected to, and were likely to suffer still more if the prison rules continued to be enforced to the same extent, it was the intention of the Government to direct that the untried political prisoners should be treated in a less severe manner than they have been hitherto?


Sir, in answer to the Question of the hon. Member, I have to state that on the 24th of February last a Report was presented to me which had been made by the medical officer of Mountjoy Convict Prison with reference to the health of the untried prisoners. The greater portion of that Report has been already published in the Annual Report of the Inspectors of Public Prisons, and I have no doubt but that that Report contains the statements referred to by the hon. Member. It is there stated that, in the opinion of the medical officer of the prison, the continued confinement of untried prisoners had tended to operate injuriously upon their health. Immediately upon receiving that Report I ordered inquiries to be made, and the next day directions were given that certain relaxations of the prison rules should be made in favour of those persons. The relaxation of the rules amounted to this, that the time allowed for exercise was doubled, the prisoners were allowed to smoke during the time they were taking their exercise, and they were allowed to walls with a companion. When I was in Dublin the other day, I made it my business to inquire what had been the effect of this relaxation in the prison discipline on the health of the prisoners. I had a long conversation with the medical officer of the prison, and I requested him to make a Report upon this subject. On the 26th of April I received the following Report from that gentleman:— With reference to the health of the untried political prisoners at present confined in this prison, I can report favourably. I have stated in my annual Report for 1866 'that all serious cases of illness among prisoners of this class were reported to the Government, and have been discharged from prison upon it being understood that confinement was likely really to aggravate their disease.' There is not at present a single case requiring treatment in the hospital. With reference to the dietary of these prisoners, they are permitted to obtain their own food from without if they please, but for those who do not do so the scale of prison dietary is tolerably liberal and varied, and during the cold weather additional blankets were distributed at my suggestion, so that I met with no complaints of cold from insufficient clothing. The prisoners are now daily in association with each other during their hours of exercise, and are permitted to smoke—a privilege greatly valued. Considering the construction of this prison, and the kind of discipline which is in some degree inseparable from that, prisoners of this class cannot be in association except when at exercise. As the days get longer and the weather milder, I would suggest that all those who desire it should be allowed two periods of exercise (in the forenoon and afternoon), during which time they would be in association with each other. The untried prisoners are allowed books as well from the library of the prison as sent by their friends. Those of them therefore who are capable of enjoying it have intellectual occupation. ROBERT M'DONNELL. Mountjoy Prison, April 26, 1867. The further recommendations contained in this Report have been carried into effect as far as is compatible with the safe custody of the prisoners and the maintenance of the prison discipline.