N. Ireland Politics

Garret Fitzgerald intervened in NI strip-searching row

Garret FitzGerald Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Garret FitzGerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement with Margaret Thatcher

Secret papers from 1986 show Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Garret Fitzgerald intervened in a strip-searching case at a Northern Ireland jail.

A pregnant woman was searched on her committal for non-payment of fines.

She was discharged the next day. and it was subsequently reported that she had a miscarriage.

Mr Fitzgerald raised concerns about strip searching and the release of life-sentence prisoners at a meeting with Secretary of State Tom King.

The intervention, two weeks after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, is revealed in confidential state papers from 1985/86 released by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Office (NIO) official S C Jackson defended the search on the grounds that it was "a necessary security precaution" and was used in most western European countries, including the Republic of Ireland.

"The two strip searches... were routine. As NIO Minister Nicholas (Scott) had explained in Parliament, we regret that no hospital officer was present at the searches but there is no reason to suppose they were connected with the miscarriage," he wrote.

Image caption The women's prison in Armagh closed in 1986

Mr Jackson further stated that strip searching applied to all prisoners "irrespective of religion and the alleged motive for their crimes", and to prevent the possibility that an inmate, possibly under duress, might seek to carry "dangerous, or illicit items" into prisons.

He concluded: "There can be no question of amnesty."

Garret Fitzgerald also raised the matter of life sentence prisoners.

It was noted that out of a total life sentence population of 461, 51 were held "at the secretary of state's pleasure", in other words with no stipulated jail term, of these 23 were republicans.

Jackson noted that ministers and officials "are very conscious that there are many people, including some who were very young at the time who became caught up in violence in the early and mid 1970s, ended up serving indeterminate sentences and now bitterly regret what they did".

The official said this was borne in mind when cases were reviewed, but "there can be no question of an amnesty".