Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 23 Apr 1969

Vol. 239 No. 13

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Imprisonment of Pregnant Woman.


asked the Minister for Justice if his attention has been drawn to a report that a woman, who had no previous conviction, and was expecting a baby was sent to jail for six months; that her cell door was locked from 7.30 p.m. to 7 a.m.; that she suffered from morning sickness which was made worse by the prison diet; that a doctor urged that she should be released; that her husband wrote to his Department pleading for her release on grounds of compassion; that she became seriously ill in prison and was taken to hospital where the baby was born prematurely and died; and that the mother remained seriously ill and has not yet recovered from the mental effects of her ordeal; and if his Department are prepared to adopt a more lenient approach to such cases in future.

There are a number of inaccuracies in the newspaper article referred to and, on that account, I think I should set out the facts of this case as they are known to me.

The woman in question was arrested in May, 1967, and was charged with 23 cases of larceny and receiving. She pleaded guilty in the district court and was remanded on bail to May, 1968, to see how she would behave in the meantime. While on remand she committed a series of forgery offences, by altering 26 money orders. She was charged with these offences in March, 1968. The amount involved was £388, none of which was recovered. In May, 1968, the district court dealt with the forgery offences, to which the defendant pleaded guilty. The court took into consideration the 23 earlier charges. She was sentenced to six months imprisonment on each charge, the sentences to run concurrently. She appealed against the severity of the sentences to the circuit court which dismissed the appeal and affirmed the sentences. She was legally represented at the hearings in the district court and circuit court.

Following the appeal, she petitioned for mitigation but, as the petition disclosed no facts that were not available to the appeal court, including the fact that she was pregnant, the petition was refused. She was committed to Mountjoy Prison on 18th November. Her medical history was known to the prison doctor. She was under constant medical supervision while in Mountjoy and, in consultation with the National Maternity Hospital, was sent there for examination at fortnightly intervals. She shared a cell with two other women, one of whom was her sister. The cell was locked, as is customary, from 7.45 p.m. to 7.00 a.m. but during that period the prisoners were, of course, under the supervision of the night duty officer. She was supplied with milk and eggs in addition to the ordinary prison diet. She made no complaint about her treatment in prison either to the prison authorities, the Visiting Committee or to my Department and, in fact, expressed appreciation of the care given to her by the staff. She was paroled on Christmas Day and on St. Stephen's Day to visit her family.

On 11th February, 1969, as there were signs of a possible premature delivery, the Prison Medical Officer arranged to have her accepted into hospital on that day for observation. A baby was born in the hospital on 14th February and died shortly afterwards. Without requiring her to return to prison she was released a week later.

I may point out, in relation to the general comments made in the newspaper article, that pregnant women prisoners are invariably sent to hospital for the delivery; that they are, in fact, under constant medical care, and that if in any particular case imprisonment were having adverse effects on a prisoner's health and the prospects for the birth of the child, the question of the remission of sentence would be favourably considered.

Is the Minister aware that while we believe that society must be protected and the law enforced we also believe that the law should be tempered with mercy but in this country it is a case of whom one knows and what one has that counts? Is the Minister further aware that an employee of St. Loman's Hospital in Mullingar embezzled £700 but that he was allowed to pay it back out of his gratuity and, further, that that man is now out on a pension of £8 per week because he was an active member of Fianna Fáil? Is that justice and is that the justice we have in this country?

The Deputy, obviously, is not interested in this woman or any other woman. He is interested only in propaganda.

The Minister has mentioned mitigating circumstances but I should like to ask what mitigating circumstances the Minister for Agriculture found when he directed that a person in Donegal should not go to prison although the person concerned had embezzled £4,000 or £5,000 of Department money?

The Deputy should behave himself.

The name of the person was McManus in case the Minister should like to look it up.