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Ireland

Prisoner awarded €5,000 after hunger strike ‘not taken seriously’

A prisoner who went on hunger strike in protest at his jail conditions has been awarded €5,000 by the High Court over the failure of prison authorities to take his protest seriously.

The man, who cannot be named, was convicted of a serious assault offence and is serving a 12-year sentence at a prison which also cannot be identified by order of the court.

Ms Justice Marie Baker stressed, in deciding on the sum of €5,000, that she intended to do no more than mark damages in relation to the failure of the prison authorities to deal reasonably and expeditiously with his complaints about his conditions.

He started the hunger strike in February 2015 but gave it up after Ms Justice Baker, in a separate ruling the following month, said he was entitled not to be force fed even if he fell into a coma.

He then indicated that he would bring this case for damages and declarations in relation to his rights.

‘Grave’

Making the award, Ms Justice Baker said the inaction of the prison authorities “led to the circumstances becoming far more grave and dangerous than those even the plaintiff himself intended in the early days of the hunger strike”.

While that failure was negligent, it did not cause the him to go on hunger strike but made his protest much more hard than a “fleeting and transient one”, she said.

There was therefore a breach of the obligations to properly manage his grievances and difficulties with the prison regime.

Given his very difficult personal and psychological makeup, it became impossible or, at least, very difficult for him to turn back, and this was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the failure to deal with the man’s written complaints, she said.

The judge said she did not believe the authorities’ actions caused him to go on hunger strike.

The man said it was self-evident the hunger strike caused him physical and psychological harm, but the judge said there was no evidence of the longer term consequences of this. She believed compensation should be nominal because he has, in effect, recovered and his physical and mental state are, broadly speaking, that which existed before the hunger strike had commenced.

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