Cork jail not fit for animals, court told

An Irish Muslim wanted in the US on terrorism charges is suing the State for allegedly breaching his constitutional rights to privacy, dignity, and the ability to practice his religion while held in Cork Prison.

Ali Charaf Damache told the High Court yesterday that Cork Prison was “not even suitable for animals”.

He said he shared a cell with up to three other inmates and that they only had access to so-called slop buckets for toilets for 14 to 15 hours overnight.

Paul O’Higgins, counsel for the plaintiff, said the conditions and circumstances of Mr Damache’s detention breached his constitutional rights not to be subject to “inhumane and degrading treatment”, his rights to privacy and dignity and the right to practice his religion.

He is seeking a declaration to this effect and exemplary damages against the State.

Paul Anthony McDermott, counsel for the State, opposed the proceedings before Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne. He maintained that the conditions of detention in Cork Prison did not breach Mr Damache’s constitutional rights.

Born in Algeria but an Irish citizen, Mr Damache was arrested in Mar 2010 in Waterford as part of an investigation by US police and gardaí in relation to an alleged terrorism plot.

Mr Damache, aged 47, was remanded in custody to Cork Prison. He was never charged here in relation to the terrorism investigation, but was charged with an unrelated offence of threatening to kill, and making a menacing phone call to, a US lawyer in Jan 2010.

Mr Damache was conv-icted of making the menacing phone call last February and was released after serving his sentence while on remand, but immediately re-arrested on foot of the extradition request.

Mr Damache told the court there was “no comparison” between Cork Prison and Cloverhill and Wheatfield prisons, where he was also held for shorter periods.

“Cork Prison is, how to describe it, not even suitable for animals,” he told Micheal O’Higgins.

He said that, as a Muslim, he was obliged to pray five times a day and was commanded to wash himself with clean water before touching the Quran or saying his prayers. He was also obliged to go to the toilet beforehand, if necessary, and had to wash his private parts.

He said all this was “difficult and sometimes impossible” given there was no in-cell sanitation and that there was between two and four people in the cell, who used pots to defecate and urinate into from 7pm to 9am or 10am.

He said the smell caused a lot of problems, including fighting between inmates.

Mr O’Higgins said a summary of the State’s defence showed it maintained the conditions in Cork Prison did not breach Mr Damache’s rights.

He said the defence claimed there was “no constitutional right to in-cell sanitation” and that they provided, as far as reasonably practical, facilities for Mr Damache to exercise his religion.

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