|Mr. Nicholar Perry - Dept of Justice N.I.|
18th April 2018
Mr. Nicholas Perry CB
Department of Justice.
Dear Mr Perry,
Ecclesiastical visits Maghaberry Prison
You may or may not be aware that I was recently refused an ecclesiastical visit to a long-standing parishioner of mine who is a prisoner in HMP Maghaberry? I have looked after him as a clergyman for well over 20 years now. He is Xxxxxx Xxxxxx Xxxxx and his prison number is XXXXX. He also has mental health issues and I know that he has presented the prison staff with very difficult challenges since he went there on remand some weeks ago.
He had made a formal request to the prison authorities for an ecclesiastical visit.
That visit was refused by Resident Governor David Savage.
My local MP, Mr. Sammy Wilson, called Governor Savage and was quite shocked when Mr. Savage told him that he had refused the request for an ecclesiastical visit having been asked to do so by the Roman Catholic chaplains at Maghaberry!
Mr. Wilson has since appealed the refusal to the Prison Governor Mr. David Kennedy and to date we have had no reply.
I am no longer formally a member or a cleric of the Roman Catholic Church and I have no expectation that the Roman Catholic chaplains would facilitate ecclesiastical visits from me.
I am however a clergyman of 42 years standing – 40 in Northern Ireland and during that time I have regularly visited all the prisons.
Upon my rupture with the Roman Catholic Church in 1985, the then Roman Catholic chaplains immediately refused to facilitate ecclesiastical visits for me.
At the time I contacted the late Dr. Ian Paisley and he spoke to the N. I. Prison minister at the time – Mr. Nicholas Scott – and an arrangement was set up whereby I was able to have my ecclesiastical visits.
So, there is a political and religious precedent to me visiting N. Ireland prisons as Bishop Pat Buckley of The Oratory Society.
A RELIGIOUS BODY:
The Oratory Society was established in Larne in the mid-1980’s as a “religious body”.
Other government departments regard The Oratory Society as a “religious body” – for example, The Oratory Society is regarded as a “religious body” by the Registrar General of Marriages for Northern Ireland.
It would be most strange for one branch of government to recognize The Oratory Society as a religious body – and another branch of the same government to refuse to recognize it.
For the N. I Prison Service to refuse to allow me ecclesiastical visits to my parishioners is an act of religious discrimination that contravenes not the Human Rights legislation but the Code of Good Practice of the N. I. Prison Service.
Article 9 says:
Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The Code of Good Practice of the N. Ireland Prison Service says:
Examples of good practice
The prison service has a duty to provide for the pastoral needs of prisoners of other faiths and a register of pastors and ministers of minority faiths, willing to provide pastoral care for prisoners, is maintained.
When the need arises, prisoners registered as other faiths for which no chaplains are appointed, may on request receive a visit from a Pastor or Minister of their own religion.
In the context of Article 9 and the prison Code of Practice Governor Savage was clearly in contravention of both the spirit and the law. I am at a loss to understand how he did not realise this.
I respect the N. I Prison Service and the important work they do. In my 40 years of prison visiting, I have never once made any problem for the service.
It would be a great pity if circumstances forced me to take a judicial review or a European court case in order to solve this very simple matter. I have no wish to do this and would want to sort it out amicably and at the earliest stage.
In fact, I believe my ecclesiastical visit to Mr. Xxxxx would enable me to persuade him to fully co-operate with the prison staff and authorities in such a way as they could then help him. And that is my firm intention.
Can I reiterate I have no desire to irritate anyone in Maghaberry Prison, including the chaplaincy team? I simply want to have an ecclesiastical visit as the senior pastor of The Oratory Society to one of my long-term parishioners.
To achieve this, I am prepared to contact anyone I am directed to contact to arrange such visits and to behave impeccably, as I always have, during prison visits.
I would be most grateful if you could look at this matter for me urgently and help me to resolve it.
I hope to hear from you very soon on the matter.
(Bishop) Pat Buckley
The Oratory Society.
The Oratory Society.
Mr. Sammy Wilson MP