Investigation Into Cancerous Chemicals Used In Long Kesh Required

The dehumanising conditions in which republican prisoners were held whilst incarcerated in Long Kesh prison are well known and rightly vilified. Long Kesh has for over four decades remained synonymous with the British policy of criminalisation, the vile and deliberate conditions that the prison administration overseen and above all else, the sheer will and determination of the republican prisoners that suffered within what Vol.Bobby Sands called the “filthy ancient concrete tombs”.

While the struggles of the prisoners through the most difficult of adversities remains well known throughout nationalist districts, a deeply worrying fact  has recently been brought to light . That these men that have suffered through unimaginable hardships continue to suffer as a result of their past incarceration. More and more frequently, former blanketmen are passing away at an early age and the rates of those suffering from cancer is far too great a number to be considered mere coincidence.


During an interview carried out by RNU one former blanket man stated:

” It is well known that the screws tampered with our food, often on a starvation diet we would be forced to eat whatever we were given. As if it wasn’t bad enough that we were eating our food with our own contaminated hands, the screws made sure that even something as simple as a meal would be a punishment, they contaminated our food with a variety of sickening things such as liquid polish, spit, urine and their waste. Many of the prisoners as a result contracted diseases such as dysentery and worms. Over a period of years, it is not difficult to imagine the damaging and permanent effect that these conditions would have on us especially when taking into consideration the daily abuses that were already weakening our bodies and immune systems; the freezing cold, the hunger, sexual assault in the from of body searches, physical assault such as beatings, forced baths etc  “


Another claim is that the use of the chemical agent CR gas which was fired from water cannon, aerosol and dropped from the air on the prisoners has resulted in the development of cancer. Its use was secretly authorised by the British government as a chemical to be used for riot control. Those involved in the training on its use were warned of  the consequences of “idle talk” in regards to the use of the gas. It  was used on the prisoners repeatedly, two such examples being the during the burning of Long Kesh 1974 and an attempted mass break out in 1973. One prisoner at the time referred to its usage as “chemical warfare”, this gives us an insight that this was no mere tear gas such as CS gas. Over fifty prisoners that have stated to have been sprayed with this chemical have developed cancer in later years.

Finally a former prisoner has called for a campaign to disclose what chemicals were used for the cleaning of cells during the No Wash protest. Following exposure to the chemical ingredients prisoners would experience a choking effect and pain in their eyes. As the prison personnel were required to wear protective clothing while using the chemicals it is clear that the chemicals used were unsafe irritants and very likely after prolonged exposure, dangerous.

Several theories as to the cause of the high percentage of those contracting cancer exist and no one argument prohibits or restricts the next, in fact it is possible that a culmination of the various examples provided above has led to the deadly deterioration in the health of former prisoners. What is clear is the guilty party, the British state through deliberate and punitive neglect has shortened the lives of these men and the women affected in the gaols in Ireland in which these chemicals were used .  A condemnation will not suffice, a thorough and independent investigation in order to disclose the full information on the usage of CR gas and cleaning chemicals is an urgent demand of RNU. We pledge to support former prisoners in their quest for answers.