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Irish prisoners banned from showering for two weeks during Covid-19 peak

Inmates were forced to go without showering for up to two weeks and slept on floors in crowded rooms to prevent the spread of Covid-19

File image of Mountjoy Prison, Dublin. Photo: Ernie Leslie

Neasa Cumiskey

Irish prisoners were locked up with no access to fresh air for up to 30 hours at a time at the height of the pandemic, it has emerged.

Inmates were forced to go without showering for up to two weeks and slept on floors in crowded rooms to prevent the spread of Covid-19 when the virus first spread in 2020.

At one stage, more than a hundred prisoners in Wheatfield Prison, Co. Dublin were locked in their cells and would “go to their small windows to suck in some air” due to the lack of ventilation, according to a chaplain’s report.

The men had “no access to exercise, fresh air, or movement of any kind for weeks” and, in one case, two men who shared a cell in Wheatfield had a window that did not open.

The chaplain added: “For a man in prison for the first time, the confinement was unbearable. Physically they were kept safe from Covid but mentally, spiritually and psychologically they suffered.”

Chaplains in the Midlands Prison, Co. Laois, and Mountjoy Prison described it as “demeaning” and “unacceptable” that inmates were denied showers for two weeks at a time, saying that it had “a serious impact on their personal hygiene, on their dignity and on their general well-being.”

Midlands’ chaplains wrote that it was “disgusting” that three people shared a two-person cell on warm days with limited access to fresh air, with one sleeping on the floor, and three sharing the one toilet in the cell.

The chaplain added that it was “extremely difficult” for prisoners to be locked up for as much as 30 hours at a time.

And the denial of temporary release for family funerals due to public health restrictions was “extremely traumatic” and had a “serious detrimental effect” on prisons.

The chaplain in Loughan House, Co. Cavan described one instance in which an inmate was refused temporary release after his brother took his own life.

He had initially been granted permission to view his brother’s remains, but this was revoked when Dublin went into Level 3 lockdown.

The man went to the funeral and was reprimanded by being sanctioned for “absconding.”

“This man wanted the opportunity to view his brother’s remains knowing it was going to be the last time he would ever see him,” the chaplain wrote.

“The person got to see his brother by absconding but ended up back in a closed prison afterwards.”

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