By David Raleigh
Elderly artist and anti-war activist, Margaretta D'Arcy, who was released early from prison this morning after serving part of a second prison sentence over her opposition to the US military use of Shannon Airport, has described conditions inside Limerick prison as "inhumane".
Margaretta who is a close friend of President Michael D Higgins and of his wife Sabina Coyne, said she had to defecate in the same cell where she ate her meals, and that she was locked up 23 hours a day.
The 80-year-old was released by the prison authorities five days before her custodial term ended.
The Galway pensioner, who is receiving cancer treatment, had not eaten for some days after being taken into custody last Wednesday. She had gone on a limited hunger strike as an act of solidarity with victims of war around the world.
Ms D'Arcy, from Woodquay, Galway, and Niall Farrell of Ballynacloghy, Maree, Oranmore, Galway, were each given two-week sentences and fined €100 last month at Ennis District Court for an unauthorised incursion into Shannon Airport in September 2013.
Speaking upon her release, Ms D'Arcy called on the Minster for Justice, Francis Fitzgerald, to close down and redevelop the women's section of Limerick Prison.
"Unlike the Dóchas Centre (Mountjoy, Dublin), which is all little houses which are like hostels - we eat in our cell, and we also we go to the toilet in our cell, and I think this is unacceptable.
"As well as that now that the weather is (good), we've got flies. You talk about hygiene; there are bloody flies around the place on our food and everywhere. It needs to be closed down."
She said that women prisoners are treated like "inferior citizens".
"Contrary to what everyone says, the sensory deprivation is that we are just cooped up in a tiny little area. Limerick (Prison) was never meant to be for women," she said.
"They are meant to be having a new jail. There are plans for a wonderful new jail, which will be based very much on the Dochas Centre and they are just waiting for (Finance Minister) Michael Noonan (to pass funding)," she added.
Ms D'Arcy said she could not see much help provided for inmates who have problems with their mental health and addictions.
She also weighed in on the entire judicial system, saying woman are "fodder" for a "corrupt" system.
"A lot of these women have problems with drugs and whatever. Where is the rehabilitation? They shouldn't be in (jail). The full wealth of the State should be there for them to be rehabilitated."
"What are the solicitors doing about it? So, you have women shoplifting for a bottle of vodka and the solicitor is being paid €250 a day to come along and say to the women, 'Are you pleading guilty or not guilty'.
"And what is the judge doing about it? What are the gardaí doing about it? The whole thing is a multi-million (euro) industry, and the women are treated as fodder. They're the kind of resources that go in to keep this enormous corrupt industry going."
Ms D'Arcy said she was "feeling pretty good" after her second stint behind bars.
"I'm feeling good, and that's why I like to talk about these important things," she added.
She said she expected to be placed back inside a prison cell as she would not comply with a previous court order to refrain from unauthorised access to Shannon Airport.