A GAY prisoner who sought protective custody because he feared he would be subjected to homophobic victmisation has lost a High Court bid to be released because he is locked up for 23 hours a day.
Samuel Connolly (23) was convicted in June 2010 and sentenced to seven years imprisonment (with the final two-and-a-half years suspended) for assault causing serious harm over an incident in which he struck a student with a bottle on a street in Dublin in June 2009.
He is scheduled for release in December 2013.
In an action against the Governor of Wheatfield Prison, where he is currently being held, he claimed that while he requires protective custody, a 23-hour lock up regime is in breach of his constitutional rights and he should be released.
Today, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan refused to relase him saying the circumstances of his detention could not be said to violate the substance of the guarantee of personal integrity under Article 40.3.2 of the Constitution.
Even if he has been denied effective access to human contact for 23 out of 24 hours for nearly three months, and even if it has been at his own request, the judge said he had no doubt his situation will be reviewed the longer it goes on. The authorities will aslo be on guard for signs of psychological or psychiatric distress, he said.
It might well be that if these conditions were to continue indefinitely, the point may well come where his constitutional guarantees would be violated. However, he said, it would be premature to anticipate what might yet materialise.
Earlier, the judge noted that while being held in Mountjoy Prison in September 2011, Mr Connolly was the victim of a serious attack.
He was transferred to Mountjoy's training unit where he was involved in a fracas with another prisoner and, following disciplinary action, he was then transferred to Wheatfield Prison.
There he asked for protection from the general prison population as he feared he would be subjected to homophobic victimisation, the judge said.
The authorities granted his request in accordance with prison rules but took the view his safety was not threatened by being among the general prison population.
The judge said the locking up of prisoners under such circumstances for very long periods must be regarded as an exceptional measure which might in some instances at least compromise the subtance of the detainee's rights and safeguarding of his human dignity.
However, it is clear that Mr Connolly's case is kept under review and the authorities are anxious that he would re-enter the general prison regime. It was also clear that professional psychologists have shown Mr Connolly considerable care and attention "and seem totally devoted to his welfare", he said.