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17 April 2012
Maghaberry Prison has come under fire following claims that it placed Republican prisoners under 24-hour lock-up for refusing to remove their Easter lilies.
A spokesman for the Family and Friends of Republican Prisoners Maghaberry Group claimed the prisoners were punished for marking the Republican event and locked up on Easter Sunday, April 7 when they said visits were also cancelled, an allegation disputed by the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
“Once again, republican prisoners have been punished for wearing Ireland’s traditional symbol of remembrance,” Mandy Duffy spokesman for the group told the Andersonstown News.
A spokesman for the Prison Service said “appropriate steps were taken to ensure that the well-known policy on the wearing of lilies was adhered to over the Easter period” and said that “did not impact on visits which proceeded as planned on Easter Sunday”.
March 29 2012
Progress on dealing with mental health issues in jails in Northern Ireland has been slow – with most prisoners at Maghaberry Prison on medication, inspectors have warned.
Some 700 inmates at the Co Antrim jail are receiving treatment, mostly tranquillisers, as the Prison Service struggles to cope with the challenge.
Early screening remains difficult as people enter the justice system and there are no clear rules about where people affected by disorders should be taken when they are detained by police, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland said.
Chief inspector Dr Michael Maguire said: “While there are some examples of excellent practice, progress in the last two years has been slow despite the recognition of the great challenges facing the criminal justice agencies in caring for prisoners with mental health issues.”
A total of 700 out of 850 inmates at high-security Maghaberry are on medication, mostly tranquillisers, and about 7% of the whole prison population are thought to be seriously mentally ill.
Up to 16% of those placed in custody suffer from some form of mental ill health and many more have personality disorders. Deficiencies in the treatment of vulnerable prisoners in Northern Ireland have been highlighted by inspectors before.
Mr Maguire said there had been some improvements in the information shared between the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service as well as the information given to the court about people with problems.
“It is not possible to say however whether this had made any difference to the extent to which people have been diverted away from custodial care,” he added.
A Department of Justice/Department of Health group has been established to develop a more joined-up approach. Mr Maguire added: “It is early days and to date it has made limited impact on the ground.”
Inspectors noted the government’s commitment on strengthening cross-departmental working.
By Vincent Kearney
8 Mar 2012
The Justice Minister, David Ford, has repeated his call for an end to the so-called ‘dirty protest’ by dissident republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail.
More than 20 inmates have been smearing excrement on walls and floors for the past 10 months.
The prisoners say they want scanning devices to replace body searches.
Mr Ford said the Prison Service was seeking alternatives.
Prison protests have been an important part of the history of violent republicanism.
There have been hunger strikes and dirty protests and the murders of prison officers as republicans sought to exercise control over the way they were imprisoned.
While the tactics have varied, the aim was the same.
Republicans insisted they were special category, political prisoners, while the government and their opponents said they were simply criminals who should be treated as such.
The early release of hundreds of republican and loyalist prisoners after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement ended decades of disputes and segregated wings, when paramilitary organisations effectively ran the high security Maze prison outside Lisburn.
The prison authorities vowed that such a regime would never be allowed to occur again.
Twenty-seven inmates are protesting at Maghaberry Prison Twenty-seven inmates are protesting at Maghaberry Prison
But there is still segregation in the high security Maghaberry prison, with loyalists and republicans held in their own blocks. Protest has also returned.
There are currently 27 prisoners from the various dissident republican groups in Roe House who are on what is full or partial dirty protest.
Some mix their excrement and urine and smear it on their cell walls, while others mix it and throw it out under their doors and on to the landings.
The reasons is a dispute over what the prisoners call strip searching, and the prison authorities refer to as full body searches.
Mr Ford pointed out that these searches are part and parcel of life in all prisons throughout the United Kingdom, and said they are vital for security. The prisoners said the rationale was humiliation, not enhanced security.
The current protest goes back to May last year.
The prisoners said it started because the prison authorities reneged on an agreement they signed in August 2010 after months of discussions with mediators.
The prisoners insist the agreement was to end the policy of routine full body searches.
They agreed to be scanned by a BOSS chair – Body Orifice Security Scanner – and to be strip searched if it indicated that they were concealing an item, or if intelligence information suggested they were.
“They accepted that full body searches could be used in exceptional circumstances, it was not a total rejection,” said a source.
“But their understanding was that such searches would no longer be routine either for movement inside the prison or when leaving and entering their blocks for visits and court appearances.”
Damien McLaughlin, a 35-year-old from County Tyrone, was released from Roe House recently after serving just over two years for possession of two rifles, a sawn off shotgun and more than 100 bullets.
“The August 2010 agreement has to be implemented in full,” he told the BBC. “We signed up to it in good faith. All routine strip searches were to cease, but the prison reneged on this.”
David Ford robustly rejected that claim.
“That is simply not correct,” he said.
“It removed the need for full body searching for movements within the prison, it did not make any change at all to the movement entering and leaving the prison, those arrangements are the same for every prisoner in Magahberry, every prisoner in Magilligan, and every prisoner in prisons across the United Kingdom.”
Mediators involved in brokering the agreement believed it offered a solution to the protest, and that if the spirit of the agreement had been entered into, the current situation within Roe House would not exist.
Mr Ford rejected any suggestion that the prison authorities had broken the spirit of the agreement.
“The spirit of the agreement has been breached by those prisoners who have not adhered to the agreement, who have made threats to prison officers, who have seen those threats posted on websites.
“But the spirit of the agreement has been adhered to by the prison service and by the department of justice.”
Last year an independent review team headed by Dame Ann Owers said the prison service should seek alternatives to full body searches.
In recent weeks, Mr Ford has visited Portlaoise and Birmingham prisons, and a detailed report is being prepared examining what technology is available.
The minister said that showed good will and that the authorities were doing what the prison review team asked them to do.
“There is no justification for the protest,” he added. “The prison service and the department of justice are living up to the recommendations of the report and we are seeking alternative technologies.”
The prisoners disagree and insist that the BOSS chair system is the answer. They said the protest would go on until the policy of routine body searches ended.
The prison authorities insisted the BOSS chair was not the answer and that routine full body searches would only end if they find a secure alternative.
21 Feb 2012
Justice Minister David Ford has refused to publish the findings of a Prison Service study into alternatives to body searches at Maghaberry.
He said the report contained sensitive security and commercial information.
But this has been dismissed as a feeble excuse by the SDLP’s John Dallat.
“As an ordinary backbencher who asked the question on behalf of a constituent, I feel I have not been given the service I’m in entitled to,” he said.
However, the minister has insisted it would be irresponsible to compromise prison security.
February 01 2012
Stormont’s Justice Minister is to visit Portlaoise Prison in the Republic as efforts continue to defuse a long-running jail dispute in Northern Ireland.
Around 30 dissident republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail in Co Antrim are involved in a so-called no wash or dirty protest against the jail’s regime.
Objections to full body searches when leaving or entering the prison have sparked calls for the use of a special hi-tech chair, similar to that used in Portlaoise, to help prison staff to check for contraband without physically searching inmates.
David Ford said, however, that prison staff had adhered to agreements at Maghaberry and he doubted if the technology existed to entirely replace searches.
After a meeting of justice ministers from Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic and Scotland at Stormont, Mr Ford revealed he will visit Portlaoise within weeks to examine how it handles top security prisoners.
“As far as I am concerned the prison service is adhering to the agreement that was made with the separated prisoners in August of 2010,” said Mr Ford.
“But there are clear issues around controlled movement which remain to be resolved which cannot be resolved while the difficulties are happening. There are also issues about technology to avoid full body searching. That is an issue that I am concerned we will make progress on for the whole of the Northern Ireland prison service estate.
“And if there are opportunities which develop, that maintain dignity for prisoners and prison staff, and also security for prison and prison staff, then we are willing to implement them.”
Mr Ford said he would explore the possibility of employing new technologies. But the minister added: “At the moment I have no evidence that there is any technology as yet licensed for use within Northern Ireland that would meet all our needs.”
The Republic’s justice minister Alan Shatter said he had full confidence that Mr Ford was dealing with the prison protest appropriately.
29 Jan 2012
The justice minister has been urged to end strip searching at Maghaberry prison and use modern hi-tech scanners.
Prison reform campaigners have argued that full body searches are fuelling support for dissident republicans.
Raymond McCartney, Sinn Fein, who is deputy chair of the Stormont justice committee, said David Ford should give the go-ahead for the new body scanners.
His call follows dirty protests and hunger strikes by some republican prisoners at the County Antrim jail.
Mr Ford said he understood the concerns of prison reform campaigners, but needed more time.
The minister said security and safety came first.
“There is traction for dissident support groups because of the prisons issue,” he told the Sunday Politics Show.
“The reality is that I cannot move in a way that would compromise the security and safety of prisoners and prison staff and the prisons in general. I am keen that we find alternatives to full body searching but that cannot be done at the expensive of security and safety.”
Mr McCartney, a former prisoner, was speaking on the Sunday Politics Show.
“We are saying to him very clearly that if there is technology there, he should do it in a way that he is not seen to be dragging his feet,” Mr McCartney said.
“I think we have given him time and space, now is the time to act.”
27 Jan 2012
LURGAN republican Colin Duffy says current conditions on Maghaberry prisons Roe House wing “could be equated to the harshness of what took place in the late 70s and early 80s” in the notorious H-Blocks.
He was speaking exclusively to the Andersonstown News just days after he was acquitted at Antrim Crown Court of the murder of British soldiers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar at Massereene Barracks in March 2009.
Up until his acquittal and subsequent release from Maghaberry, Mr Duffy, 44, had been taking part in the no-wash protest by republicans in the jail’s Roe House wing in protest at the continued use of forced full body strip-searching by prison authorities in defiance of an agreement painstakingly worked out in August 2010.
The agreement, which was reached between the republican prisoners and prison authorities with the help of independent facilitators, was supposed to do away with full body strip-searching in the prison in favour of the BOSS chair scanner and other technology. The agreement also allowed for a gradual reduction of controlled movement for republicans within the Roe House wing.
However, the agreement was to break down after only a month when prison bosses claimed it did not cover strip-searching in the reception area of the facility and after demands from the Northern Ireland Prison Service that the humiliating practice was “essential” for security reasons.
Mr Duffy, who had been held in custody at the prison since 2009, said he was forcibly strip-searched on 76 occasions after the collapse of the Roe House agreement – an agreement which he was instrumental in bringing about as a leading negotiator for republican prisoners.
Speaking to the Andersonstown News in his Lurgan home this week, Mr Duffy described one particular full body strip-search during which guards tried to force a prison-issue jumper on him.
“It was the first strip-search that I got and I remember it quite vividly as I was going out to court,” he said.
“I took my coat off and I remember standing in the cell. They asked me if I was going to strip and I said no, I wasn’t, and that I wasn’t going to offer any resistance to them doing it. Between four and six of them then came in in full riot gear – helmets, shields, padded gear, the whole lot – and welted me against the wall straight away with the shields.
“They didn’t even try to take the top half of my clothing off, they just got the scissors out and cut it off me. They had my wrists in locks and they cut the clothes off me. They then went through the rest of the process, which was stripping me entirely naked. Afterwards they put the bottom half back on but obviously I had no top clothes on as it had just been cut off. This was quite deliberate, as it transpired, because they went and got a prison jumper for me, and we all know what the connotations are for a republican prisoner in relation to the prison uniform and what happened in the blanket, the no-wash and the hunger strike era. It was entirely palpable to me, the sense of elation from the people who were putting it on me. I was shouting to them to send over to the wing to get my other clothes over but they were just going ahead and forcing the prison jumper on me. I remember shouting, ‘Get this trash off my back!’ and they were smirking and smiling, as they knew fully the symbolic nature of what was taking place right there and then. They then moved me over to the reception area for me to go to court and took the cuffs off me. I immediately threw off the jumper and hurled it to the ground. I had no top on, so I put the coat on and ended up going to court like that.”
Mr Duffy said the searches are designed to break the prisoners’ will.
“They are physically hard on you straight away and drag you to the ground, put you in all sorts of headlocks, wristlocks and armlocks,” he said.
“They are deliberately inflicting as much pain as possible on you even though you’re shouting throughout, ‘I’m not resisting this, there’s no need for this’ etcetera. It didn’t matter to them, their policy was to go in hard and physically break you. Throughout the actual searches they will be whispering to you that you’re filth, you’re scum and this is all while they are inflicting all sorts of pain and you’re lying there with your genitalia on the floor. They just don’t care. Full body strip-searching is not necessary and it’s designed to humiliate and degrade people. In my opinion there isn’t any need for it.”
He reiterated claims made in the January 14 edition of the Andersonstown News by representatives of the campaign group Family and Friends of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry that long-serving prison staff members were the main instigators of the strip-searching.
“The guards who are connected to the personal aspect of actually stripping you, some of them are screws that I would have encountered years ago and, in my opinion, the bitterness is just hanging out of them,” he said.
“They can’t disguise it and so they don’t even try to disguise it. Some of them have been there a long time and some of them are new, younger screws going about their business in the old-school way – they aren’t all of the old guard but they are of that mentality.”
Mr Duffy described the current regime in Maghaberry as similar to that at Crumlin Road Gaol at the time of the segregation protests of the early- to mid-nineties
“I was in Crumlin Road Gaol in that period and also prior to the segregation protests which was around the time you had the bomb exploding in the jail,” he said, referring to the 1992 IRA bomb in the prison canteen that killed two loyalist prisoners.
“I moved down to the H Blocks in 1995/96 and it was relaxed enough at that stage of the game. There’s no parallel to how Maghaberry operates nowadays in comparison to the H-Blocks of that period when you had political status. But when I went back into prison in 2009, into Maghaberry, there wasn’t any continuation to the system that was in the H-Block. Now, in fact, you could equate that to the harshness of what took place in the H-Blocks around the time of the late-70s and early-80s, that’s the type of scenario we’re talking about there in Maghaberry. When you are coming from that H-Block environment down to Maghaberry now and you see the attitude of the screws and the prison administration now and how they view people who class themselves as political prisoners, you do sort of say to yourself, ‘Here, listen, what happened to all that was won in relation to achieving what was in the H-Blocks?’ They’ve obviously tried to erode it away.”
Speaking about the negotiations on the Roe House agreement in the run-up to August 2010, Mr Duffy said the key issues that the prisoners wanted addressed – strip-searching and controlled movement – were in reality not “major things”.
“We weren’t asking for big, major things and they are not big, major things to resolve,” he said.
“We were quite open to letting them [the prison authorities] phase it all in, even though some of our people wanted it all done there and then. We were reasonable. But within days of the agreement being signed there was a decision taken somewhere to start trying to claw back what had been agreed.
“Even the facilitators to this day say their interpretation of what was agreed is the prisoners’ interpretation. I remember Peter Bunting [Irish Congress of Trade Unions] saying to me, ‘That’s it, you have achieved what you set out to achieve, there will not be another republican prisoner strip-searched anywhere in this jail again.’ But the whole agreement isn’t being implemented and it didn’t even begin to be implemented because of the prison trying to renege on it.”
Mr Duffy believes that more needs to be done politically to resolve the prison issue.
“Some of these people [Sinn Féin MLAs] would have been directly involved in the blanket and no-wash, hunger strike era of the H-Block,” he said.
“As a republican, you do expect that given their more intimate knowledge of what took place then, and what has taken place in Maghaberry now, they could be putting more effort into resolving it. We have met delegations from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Justice Department, the Justice Committee, and we have impressed upon them each and every time our position in relation to what needs to be done to resolve the situation, but there’s just nothing happening.”
Mr Duffy accepted that support on the streets for the current no-wash protest was significantly lower than for similar protests in previous years. He thinks that’s due to perceptions of the prisoners involved and their affiliations to various groups.
“Obviously the public support is not comparable to the amount of street protest that went on years ago in relation to that protest,” he said.
“But that doesn’t take away from the striking similarities to what is actually taking place in the jail today. I don’t think you can divorce what went on in the jails years ago in relation to the criminalisation strategy the British had from the criminalisation policy that’s happening now. It might be subtler now, but I think it’s there and it’s behind a lot of the thinking in relation to the decision makers and the people who have the power to resolve this issue. It’s a case of them not wanting to accept that there are republican prisoners in jail still to this day when they want to portray the North of Ireland as a done deal.”
Mr Duffy said it was now up to the prisoners to decide if the no-wash protest should be escalated.
“No-one wants to be living in that situation long-term, so tactically they will debate and discuss amongst themselves as to what’s the best way forward,” he said.
“If they agree to bring the BOSS chair into the reception area and agree to withdraw controlled movement gradually, that’s how to resolve it. I don’t think that anyone would agree that locking people up for 23 hours a day is a regime that should be in any jail.”
The Lurgan man added that he now intended to campaign as a free man for the full implementation of the Roe House agreement.
“I’m a republican and a political activist and I don’t intend to stop being that,” he said.
“Obviously there are issues that are still there and still relevant, so I will be involved in the Family and Friends group campaign.
“I’ll be supporting them no matter what.”
12 Jan 2012
1998: Good Friday Agreement is implemented. Political prisoners are released early on the condition that the groups they are affiliated with are on ceasefire and continue to remain on ceasefire
September 2000: The H-Blocks are closed down. Any republicans arrested after the closure of the H-Blocks are now integrated with ‘ordinary decent criminals’ (ODCs) in Maghaberry prison.
“They were mixed in with loyalists and the likes of paedophiles and so on,” said Brendy Conway, former Maghaberry prisoner and member of the Friends and Family of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry.
“As the number of republican prisoners increased in Maghaberry over the years they spread them out throughout the prison.”
2002: Republican prisoners in Maghaberry begin forms of no-wash protest. Republican prisoners demand a separate wing in the prison from loyalist prisoners, after several clashes, and from ODCs.
September 2003: Publication of the Steele Report. Following escalations in the no-wash protests at Maghaberry, the British government commissions a review of conditions at the prison conducted by a team headed up by Sir John Steele, a former Director of the Northern Ireland Prison Service. The report recommends “separation by paramilitary affiliation” of prisoners to help provide a safer environment. The report recommendations are adopted. Two new wings are now to be built at Maghaberry Prison – Roe House for republican prisoners and Bush House for loyalists.
“On the basis of the Steele Report’s findings, and as part of the agreement then reached between the prisoners and the prison authorities, the prisoners agreed to come off protest until this new wing was built,” said Brendy.
“It was also agreed that the authorities would recognise prisoner structures – i.e. the prisoners would have representatives to deal with the authorities on education, for instance, or the day-to-day running of the landing.”
March 2004: Roe House is opened and republican prisoners move in. However, in a position statement shown to the Andersonstown News, republican prisoners claim the previous agreement with the authorities was instantly reneged upon when the wing was opened and a “criminalisation regime put in place which was again designed to control, degrade and criminalise republican prisoners”. This is alleged to have included: prisoners searched up to six times a day when moving between cells and recreation area; daily cell searches; “degrading” full body strip-searches; prisoners locked up for up to 22 hours a day; three guards to every prisoner when they left their cells.
2004 to 2008: Prisoners begin protesting again, this time in reaction to deteriorating conditions at Roe House. “There were different token protests by the prisoners to get the authorities to change the ratio of guards to prisoners,” said Brendy.
“This approach worked to some extent – they increased the number of prison officers to five officers for two prisoners but then the maximum number of prisoners allowed out was changed from three to eight.”
2008 to 2009: Talks and debates begin between the republican prisoners to decide how best to move the protest forward and improve the conditions for republican prisoners. “We identified the main areas that we wanted dealt with before we would come off protest,” said Brendy, who was then a prisoner in Roe House.
“These areas were: the controlled movement of prisoners; the full body strip-searching of prisoners; recognition by the Prison Service that republican prisoners were not ordinary prisoners and therefore should be treated differently. Strip-searching and controlled movement were the two main areas that we wanted movement on. I was involved in those negotiations and we came to an agreement on how we were going to do it. The first stage of that took place in April 2010.”
April 4, 2010: The prisoners barricade themselves into the canteen area of Roe House for 36 hours. “We were then forcibly removed from the canteen and returned to our cells,” said Brendy.
“After that the protest inevitably increased through April, May and into June. There were 28 prisoners on the two landings in Roe House and all of them were on full protest, which was throwing our waste on to the landing.
“On one occasion West Belfast man Harry Fitzsimons had a disagreement with an SO [senior officer]. He went out for an hour’s exercise, came back and after lunch a riot squad was sent into his cell and severely beat him. They pulled him off the wing and put him in the SSU (special supervision unit), handcuffed him to a bed, cut his clothes off and strip-searched him. That evening when they took him off the wing all the prisoners wrecked their cells, which signalled the start of the protest escalating.”
The new no-wash protest saw prisoners putting their waste out of their cell doors and windows and refusing to wash.
June 2010: Facilitation between prisoners and the Northern Ireland Prison Service begins. As the stalemate between the prisoners and the prison authorities deepens, the group Family and Friends of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry is formed outside the prison to raise awareness of the prisoners’ plight. By the end of June a facilitation group made up of Derry community worker Conal McFeely, Peter Bunting from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Dr Ram Manikkalingam from the Dialogue Advisory Group enters the prison to help mediate a deal between the prisoners, the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Maghaberry prison administration.
“The prisoners debated this [the involvement of the facilitation group] and agreed to it, under certain conditions – that we would speak to them frankly and at all times be in control of what we were doing,” said Brendy.
“A 10-man negotiating team was then set up by the prisoners to speak for them, who then elected two people to speak on their behalf, who were myself and Colin Duffy.”
The prisoners’ two main demands are: an end to strip searching and for more humane and less intrusive methods to be used instead; the end to controlled movement.
“We met facilitators and then met directly with prison governors,” said Brendy.
“The governors said they were willing to look at our demands, but only if the prisoners came off protest, which we refused.”
August 6, 2010: A “final proposal” is offered by the prison that does not address the prisoners’ two main demands. “The facilitators told us there was nothing more that could be done,” said Brendy. “So the prisoners decide to increase the protest in jail, which led to a cessation of visits and an increase in tension in the prison.”
August 11: Facilitators re-enter the prison with a new agreement ending full body strip-searching. “It was supposed to remove the practice entirely from within Maghaberry, except in two circumstances,” said Brendy.
“One was if intelligence-led information suggested that a prisoner was smuggling stuff in and this information could be stood over by a credible third party (video footage etc). Secondly, if the technology we agreed could be used in the new search indicated that there was something there, a full strip-search could be carried out. So we gave them room that they still had an opportunity to carry out strip-searching in certain circumstances.”
The technology the prisoners agreed could be used in place of full body strip-searches includes a BOSS scanner, effectively a metal-detector chair.
“We agreed that if we were leaving the prison to go on visits or go to court we would remove our footwear, belts and outer coats and put them through an airport-type scanner,” said Brendy.
“We would then be given rubdown searches, scanned over with a metal-detector and seated in the Boss chair. We agreed on that and accepted it.
“In terms of controlled movement, we agreed that, on the signing of the agreement and on the end of our protest, the authorities would immediately increase the number of prisoners allowed out at one time. The number of prisoners allowed out on the landing at one time was increased from three to six straight away. It was also agreed by December 2010 that the number of prisoners allowed out would increase again, and by early 2011 we would all have freedom of movement within Roe House and the two landings from 8am in the morning to 8pm at night.
“The prison staff were always concerned that it would go back to a Maze-type scenario where there would only be a small amount of guards on the wing at any time. But we never negotiated for the removal of prison officers from the landing, if there had to be 50 of them we didn’t care as long as it didn’t impede our freedom of movement, i.e. that as prisoners our doors should be opened in the morning and we could move freely about our landings, canteen and yard.”
August 12, 2010: The Roe House agreement is signed. “Within the first few days there were teething problems on controlled movement – which we allowed for – for instance they were not allowing six out at a time as the place was upside down with tradesmen in working etc,” said Brendy.
“But right to this day they have never let six prisoners out as the guards were refusing to let that number out without 15 to 16 staff on the landing.”
September 23, 2010: First forcible full body strip-search since Roe House agreement is carried out on Brendy Conway as he is leaving for court appearance. “I was told to strip but I flatly refused as it was not part of the Roe House agreement,” said Brendy.
“I was told by guards it was part of the agreement as reception was not covered in the agreement. A big argument then started between prison governors and myself and during this I was forcibly removed from the reception area, brought to the punishment unit of the prison where I was pinned to the floor and forcibly strip-searched.”
Prisoners opt not to go back on protest but to inform facilitators of the agreement breach against Brendy Conway. The recently inactive group Family and Friends of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry is reformed on the outside.
November 17, 2010: New search facility opens adjacent to Roe House. This new search facility contains the aforementioned Boss chair and scanners. Prisoners are now searched leaving and entering Roe House to visit other parts of the prison as well as being strip-searched in the main reception area of Maghaberry when they are leaving and entering the prison site.
On the first day the new search facility at Roe House is used a mouth search is introduced on prisoners which they refuse to cooperate with. This sparks a stand-off between prison staff and prisoners in the run-up to Christmas which leads to the cessation of prison visits. Facilitators are brought in again and it is agreed that conversing between prisoner and guard would be seen as acceptable in place of a mouth search. Visits begin again in the week leading up to Christmas.
Early 2011: Prisoners continue meeting with facilitators and political parties visiting the prison while the Family and Friends group continue their campaign on the outside.
May 5, 2011: Prisoners begin protest again. The Prison Service makes it clear to facilitators that the agreement did not cover strip-searching in reception area.
“The prisoners deemed the agreement as effectively over as authorities were no longer adhering to it,” said Brendy.
“Prisoners then wrecked their cells and began a no-wash protest again. What needs to be made absolutely clear is that as far as the facilitators were concerned their interpretation of the Roe House agreement of August 12, particularly in regards to full body strip-searching, was always in line with the prisoners’ interpretation.”
October 2011: An independent review into the Northern Ireland Prison Service is published. The independent review, commissioned by the Minister for Justice David Ford and headed up by Dame Anne Owers, finds the Prison Service here “dysfunctional” and “ineffective”. One of its key recommendations is the need to do away with full body strip-searching in favour of using other technologies.
The no-wash protest continues.
Tensions deepen as riot squad takes place of regular guards
12 Jan 2012
THE ongoing protest by republican prisoners in Maghaberry will be stepped up if Justice Minister David Ford does not implement the full terms of the August 2010 Roe House agreement.
Representatives of the support group Family and Friends of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry were speaking to the Andersonstown News as inmates in the prison’s republican Roe House wing continue their no-wash protest at the continued use of full body strip-searching by prison authorities. The Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) claim the use of full body strip-searching is “essential” for security reasons, an argument dismissed by the prisoners and their supporters, who say the inflammatory practice never guaranteed prison security in the past.
It has also been alleged that some long-serving prison officers are using full body strip-searching as “an opportunity to even old scores” against republicans.
The August 2010 Roe House agreement, which was struck between the republican prisoners and prison authorities with the help of independent facilitators, did away with full body strip-searching in the prison in favour of the non-invasive BOSS chair scanner and other technology-based procedures. The agreement also allowed for a gradual reduction in controlled movement for republicans within Roe House.
However, that agreement was to break down only a month later after prison authorities claimed it did not cover strip-searching in the reception area of Maghaberry Prison as prisoners were leaving and entering the facility.
The ensuing stand-off with the prison authorities over the issue, say supporters and relatives, has led to nearly 200 forced strip-searches on republicans inmates and the beating of prisoners who refuse to submit to strip-searching. It also saw the start of the latest no-wash protest, in May 2011.
Tensions have escalated to such an extent that the prison’s riot squad now permanently mans part of the wing in place of regular prison officers.
Brendy Conway of Family and Friends of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry, himself a prisoner in Maghaberry at the time of the Roe House agreement and who helped negotiate that agreement on behalf of the prisoners, said the problem has become so bad that prisoners are “looking into the abyss”.
“Nothing has given rise to any hope at this stage that this can be resolved,” said Brendy. “The prisoners believed that they had been given cast-iron guaranteed commitments by the [prison] administration to do away with the strip-searching completely and to relax controlled movement within a given time-frame. It was also the understanding of the facilitators that that was the case. However, the Prison Service have now made it quite clear to the facilitators that the August 12 agreement did not cover strip-searching in the reception area. Had we known that we would never have signed the agreement.
“Since May 5, the protest has increased. We have a situation now where we have prisoners on various forms of protest – some are on dirty protest and some guys are not, due to health reasons and age. We are looking into the abyss.”
Former blanketman Alex McCrory, also of Family and Friends of Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry, said that elements within the prison and the NIPS “began to work against the agreement” immediately after it was agreed upon by the relevant parties.
“Strip-searching was re-introduced after the agreement within a very short time and progress on controlled movement was stalled to a snail’s pace,” said Alex. “The prisoners would refuse to comply with the strip-searching as they said it was in breach of the agreement and this then led to forcible strip-searching. Since August 2010 there have been almost 200 forced strip-searches in the prison, leading to countless injuries to prisoners. These searches are very aggressive, involving four to six screws dressed in riot gear wielding shields and batons. Prisoners are beaten to the ground. They have restraining locks applied to their joints and their clothes are forcibly removed. On at least two occasions clothes have been cut off from their bodies using scissors. Several prisoners have received injuries as a result of that. In relation to controlled movement, in Maghaberry today there is a ratio of three screws to one prisoner and five screws to two prisoners. In Long Kesh you had a ratio of two screws to thirty-plus men on a wing with unrestricted movement. The history of republican wings tells us that prison staff are safe when points of conflict are removed. That is the situation that we find ourselves in at present.”
Alex said the facilitators who helped broker the initial Roe House agreement have told the Friends and Family group that a “a blockage in the system at a very senior level” is preventing the full implementation of the terms agreed in August 2010. He added that long-serving prison guards were the main instigators of the “hassle” the prisoners were getting.
“They [the independent facilitators] said that there are people within the system that are totally opposed to the ending of full body strip-searching for the purposes of security even though there is new technology available that makes a full body strip-search obsolete and unnecessary.
“Certain protestors are singled out, such as Colin Duffy [Lurgan] and Harry Fitzsimons [Ballymurphy], men who have a history going back to Long Kesh. There is a sense that some prison guards are getting their own back now for what happened in the past. They have this old mindset and unfortunately Maghaberry affords them the opportunity to even old scores.”
The current no-wash protest involves some 35 prisoners aligned to different republican groups who are refusing to wash, shave or have their hair cut.
“For example, on the top landing you have ONH [Óglaigh na hÉireann]-aligned and RSF [Republican Sinn Féin]-aligned prisoners who are putting their human waste on the walls,” explained Alex. “On the bottom landing, prisoners aligned to the 32 County Sovereignty Movement and independent prisoners are putting their human waste on to the landing. Although there are differences in tactics, there is a full protest at present.”
Alex added that current conditions for prisoners in Roe House are “extremely harsh” and the atmosphere within the wing is “extremely hostile and tense”.
“The bottom landing, which holds 14 of the protestors, is being run by the prison riot squad in full riot gear so the ordinary screws have effectively been withdrawn,” he said. “The prisoners are searched leaving the cell, outside the cell and on returning to the cell. The screws in the riot squad are trained to be aggressive and in-your-face so there has been an awful lot of hostility and tension which the prisoners live with on a daily basis. There is always potential for a flare-up because of the tense relationship between the prisoners and the riot squad. A few of the prisoners have been in jail before and a sizeable number have been in the Kesh, but for the vast majority of them this is their first time in jail. There are no former blanketmen there, so this would be their first experience of these types of conditions and they find it very, very difficult to cope with, but they are very determined to see the agreement implemented in full.”
NIPS claims that the use of full body strip-searches is essential for security reasons have been rubbished by the Friends and Family group.
“As ex-prisoners, we can tell you that that’s complete nonsense,” said Alex. “A full body strip-search never guaranteed prison security. On the blanket protest we were able to bring in thousands of comms, tobacco, radios and God knows what else despite a full body strip-search and mirror search. The full body strip-search is about control and domination, it’s as simple as that. It’s the first contact that the prisoner has with the system and in the first contact you have with that system you are compelled to remove your clothing and stand naked before three or four grown men. The ironic thing is that the technology that we are proposing probably enhances security rather than compromises security.”
The support group backs the implementation of the recommendations of the recent independent review into the Northern Ireland Prison Service by Dame Anne Owers, in which she found the Prison Service here to be “dysfunctional” and “ineffective”.
“She recommends that the Prison service as a whole gets other forms of search procedures in place other than full body strip-searching,” said Alex.
“She says there are new technologies that would render the full body strip-search absolutely unnecessary and describes the practice as ‘an invasion of privacy and intrusive’. That report was released two months ago but [Justice Minister] David Ford is saying that it could take two years to implement her recommendations.”
The two men say that prisoners feel that they are not getting “the type of support they deserve from former friends and comrades who should know better and who have been through this whole experience before”.
“Sinn Féin have met with the prisoners on several occasions and met with our group on several occasions and we have discussed the issues inside-out,” said Alex.
“They have made numerous public statements calling on David Ford to implement the agreement, but unfortunately that is not enough. We believe there has to be some sort of meaningful political action following on from these statements. The DUP are the main obstacle to the implementation of this agreement so there has to be a counter to that. The Family and Friends group are calling on Sinn Féin to use their political strength in a positive way to counter the DUP on this issue and to bring a speedy resolution to this problem.”
Alex accepts that the lack of outside interest in the protest could be because it involves prisoners from micro-republican groups.
“To a large extent that is the case, but I also think that people don’t like the idea of the past coming back to haunt them,” he said.
“The situation is bad at the moment and it is difficult to see how the protest can be escalated without something drastic coming into play. Obviously that’s not something that’s being talked about by prisoners or the organisations they align to, but we are talking about a situation here where prisoners are living in their own waste. Now I spent two and a half years on the blanket protest and it cannot get any worse than that. They are under enormous pressure in terms of the physical conditions in which they find themselves and because of that, that puts enormous pressure on the men’s families.”
Brendy Conway added that the prisoners “are not looking anything that was not already agreed as far back as August 2010”.
“Going into 2012 we have prisoners still on dirty protest and locked down 23 hours a day and people going through lengthy trials who are being forcibly stripped twice a day, such as Colin Duffy,” said Brendy.
“The ball’s in their court. To quote the facilitators, an hour could sort this out.”
A spokesperson for the NIPS said the service has “consistently maintained that full body searching on entering and exiting any prison is essential to preserve the security of the establishment and the safety of other prisoners, staff and the wider community in line with practice in other jurisdictions throughout Europe”. The spokesperson continued: “A search facility for separated prisoners at Maghaberry, incorporating a BOSS chair, has been operational since November 17, 2010. In line with the August 2010 agreement, there is no longer any requirement for routine rub-down searching within the separated wings, except where a prisoner is being moved out of the wing. However, the BOSS chair cannot detect non-metallic items. NIPS believes that the existing arrangements are consistent with the August agreement and remains committed to the implementation of the agreement. This position was upheld by the courts when it was challenged by judicial review earlier this year.
“In line with Dame Anne Owers’ recommendation that we should seek an alternative to ‘full body searching’ in her review of NIPS, we are currently researching what, if any, other alternative technologies are available. To date, no viable alternative has been identified.”
Asked about the deployment of the prison riot squad at sections of Roe House in place of regular prison guards, the NIPS spokesperson added: “Members of the NIPS Dedicated Search Team are currently deployed to Roe House at Maghaberry prison for operational reasons, but this arrangement is kept under review by the Governor.
“There is a complaints procedure in place, in particular the Prisoner Ombudsman, should any prisoner believe that NIPS staff have behaved inappropriately.”
13 January 2012
The concerned wife of a Derry republican prisoner has appealed to the city’s political leaders to help improve conditions in Maghaberry Prison before someone dies.
Loraine Taylor, whose husband Tony Taylor is one of 35 republican prisoners currently protesting for better conditions, spoke of her worry and heartbreak over the health and wellbeing of her husband.
Mrs Taylor, from the Foyle Springs area of the city, told the ‘Derry Journal’, “Tony is on remand in Maghaberry Prison from August 3, 2011 and is currently on a dirty protest. He is in ill-health since being blown up in a bomb 18 years ago and has no spleen, no kidney and shrapnel in his body. Now they think he has septic arthritis, which could be poisoning his blood.”
Mrs Taylor, who is caring for three children, one of whom is special needs, has been worried sick about her husband since he was incarcerated. She is furious at the lack of communication from prison authorities.
“Tony has been taken to hospital by prison staff and on no occasion did anyone let me know. They have a duty to let me know, yet I hear nothing. They wouldn’t even tell me which hospital he is in.”
“Tony never complains. I notice through the visits how weak he is becoming, the weight is falling off him and he can’t even nurse my youngest child on his knee during visits anymore. He always rings me around 4.30pm every day and when he doesn’t phone I know there is something up. It was another prisoner’s wife who told me that Tony had been taken into hospital.”
He always puts on a brave face for us, for the children, but it’s heartbreaking when I look at him because I’m thinking to myself “he’s going to die in there.” This has been the hardest six months ever, I cry all the time.”
Earlier this week, Mrs Taylor inquired about her husband’s condition. “I had rang the hospital to see how he was, and they told me he had a bad night and was in pain all night. Then I spoke to the Governor, who told me that Tony had a comfortable night – so who’s telling lies here? What if he was dying, are they going to tell me he’s doing great? It’s a disgrace. It’s their duty of care to keep the family informed of what’s happening.”
“All I want is for them to be treated normally. I want all the MPs and political leaders to help stop the dirty protests and improve conditions in there, so Martin McGuinness and Mark Durkan must get involved and put pressure on Justice Minister David Ford.
A tearful Mrs Taylor added: “I want my husband to be treated like a human being, or he will die.”
8 Jan 2012
Old Bailey bomber Marian Price will hear this week if she’s to be freed from Maghaberry jail where she has been held for eight months in solitary confinement.
Price appeared before the life sentence review commission in the top security jail two weeks ago.
Her legal team are arguing that by continuing to imprison her, without charge, the British government is acting illegally.
The commission is due to announce its decision on the fate of the North’s most famous female republican within days.
The 57-year-old mother of two was arrested and charged with holding a statement for a masked Real IRA man at an Easter commemoration in Derry in April.
She was granted bail by the court but Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, then withdrew her licence and returned Price to prison. Her lawyer claims he’d no legal right to do so.
A lengthy hunger-strike and force-feeding in Brixton prison had left Price gravely ill. Weighing only five stone and suffering from tuberculosis and anorexia, she was released on licence in 1980.
Weeks later, she was granted the royal prerogative of mercy. But the British now claim to have lost Price’s pardon.
Solicitor Peter Corrigan said: “The royal pardon my client received wiped the slate clean so she couldn’t be returned to jail on the basis of previous offences.
“Owen Paterson didn’t have the power to send her back to prison. We’ve repeatedly asked the NIO to produce the pardon which would free her.
“They’ve told us it’s probably been shredded. This is all very convenient. Since this pardon hasn’t been produced, the lawful course of action is for Marian Price to be released immediately.”
In an interview from behind bars last month with the Sunday World, Price spoke of the toll solitary confinement had taken on her health.
Her hands and arms were covered in psoriasis, brought on by stress. She has shed several stones in weight and is losing her hair. She spoke of the “mind-numbing boredom” of isolation.
However, she refused to condemn dissident republicanism or ‘armed struggle’.
Price’s husband, Jerry McGlinchey, said his wife’s release was a human rights’ issue: “People don’t have to agree with Marian’s politics to see that what’s going on is wrong.
“The UN recommends that prisoners are held in solitary only in exceptional circumstances and for no more than 15 days. My wife has been held eight months in isolation in a male prison. We are meant to be living in a civilised state.”
Once a close associate of Gerry Adams, Price became disillusioned with Sinn Féin in the mid-1990s and joined the dissident political group, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.
With her sister Dolours and Gerry Kelly, now a senior Sinn Féin politician, Price was part of an IRA team which planted four bombs in Britain, including one at the Old Bailey. Around 200 people were injured, mainly with flying glass. One man died of a heart attack.
January 9, 2012
This article appeared in the January 8, 2012 edition of the Sunday World.
By Brian Rowan
7 January 2012
Two of Ireland’s most senior church leaders have met the protesting republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail.
The visit by Cardinal Sean Brady and Church of Ireland Archbishop Alan Harper was unannounced, but details have emerged from the prison.
Senior church and Department of Justice sources confirmed the meeting, which took place three days before Christmas as part of a wider pastoral visit.
Prisoners’ support group Cogus believes the meeting demonstrates the “seriousness” of the churches as attempts continue to end the so-called dirty protest.
In a statement Cogus said the church leaders were told that the Northern Ireland Prison Service has to date “scuppered any chance of having a calm and relaxed wing that allows for prison security and prisoner dignity”.
Several dozen dissident prisoners linked to a number of factions are involved in the jail protest, with some smearing excrement on their cell walls.
The row relates to strip searching and arguments over the controlled movement of prisoners.
Church sources are emphasising the pastoral nature of the visit.
But the Belfast Telegraph has been told they asked for “sufficient time” to talk to representatives of the protesters. One source described this as “a priority in the visit”.
It is understood the two were in the prison for several hours, meeting staff, prisoners and chaplains as well as inspecting facilities.
“Christmas is always a sensitive time for prisoners and their families, hence the timing,” a source said.
“As the Prison Service is facing significant change in the months ahead, so this is also a sensitive time for prison officers and their families for whom the churches also have pastoral concerns.”
It is understood Archbishop Harper met loyalists held in Roe House while Cardinal Brady spoke with republicans, then together they met the representatives of the protesting prisoners.
They were briefed on the prisoners’ interpretation of an agreement reached in August 2010.
Cardinal Brady is in Rome, and the Church of Ireland Press office said Archbishop Harper would prefer not to make public comment on a pastoral visit.
A spokesman for Cogus said he welcomed the involvement of the church leaders. He insisted there was a scanning alternative to strip searching, and said if a date was announced to introduce a pilot scheme and end controlled movement, the dirty protest would end.
The Department of Justice has insisted full body searching is an essential part of prison security.
Dialogue only way out of impasse
This protest has not been kept behind bars. In an effort to force a policy change inside Maghaberry, dissidents have targeted Alliance Party offices.
The party leader is Justice Minister David Ford. But intimidation has not worked.
And those who, from past experience, know about these things insist that dialogue is the only way to resolve prison disputes.
But dissidents believe Mr Ford “fears a backlash from elements within the DUP”.
And, yes, senior members of that party have warned that Maghaberry should not become another Maze — another jail in which security is compromised because of concessions to prisoners. But this cannot become a political football. The situation is too serious.
And, so, decisions have to be made by those who have operational responsibility.
Can they be convinced that there is a scanning alternative to full body searching?
Dissidents argue it works on the republican wings in Portlaoise. So why not Maghaberry?
4 Jan 2012
A dissident republican on dirty protest in Maghaberry jail claims the North’s top security prison is fast deteriorating into a cesspit of disease.
Damien McLaughlin, the first prisoner on the protest to be freed, described in graphic detail the horrific conditions in which republican inmates live and prison staff work.
The 34 republican inmates are engaged in a bitter dispute with the authorities over forced strip-searching.
McLaughlin said: “Prisoners are smearing their excrement on cell walls or else mixing it with urine and pouring it out their doors onto the landing.
“Inside the cells are awful, outside is a mess too. The stench is unbelievable. The riot squad are permanently on our landing. They’re dressed in white disposable boiler suits, helmets, boots, and latex gloves.
“They’re armed with batons. They tramp through the excrement and urine to hand us meals to be eaten in our cells. It’s a serious health hazard and there’s a real danger of a disease outbreak.”
The protesting prisoners claim a BOSS chair – an X-ray-type machine already in Maghaberry – means strip searching isn’t needed and is used only to “degrade and criminalise” republicans.
But prison officers insist strip-searching is vital to security and the prisoners’ protest is to blame for the current health risks.
McLaughlin claimed the prisoners were locked in their cells 22 hours a day and were sometimes denied food for up to 16 hours.
The situation was “at breaking point”, he claimed: “Tensions are at an all-time high. Maghaberry is a powder keg.”
Republican inmates are refusing to shave or cut their hair. McLaughlin, a 35-year-old father of two from Ardboe, Co Tyrone, was released last Friday.
Emerging from the prison to be greeted by family and friends, he looked like a H-Block blanketman from the 1970s, sporting a bushy beard.
McLaughlin, who served two years in Maghaberry for weapons’ possession, was forcibly strip-searched 23 times. He said Colin Duffy – charged with murdering two British soldiers at Massereene – had been strip-searched 76 times.
McLaughlin claimed strip-searching was brutal. “One prison officer grabs your head, two others grip your hands, while the fourth holds you down on the floor,” he said.
“They tear off your trousers, socks and boxer shorts. They run a scanner over your back passage and genitals. Then, they search your upper body.
“After a strip search, you feel like you’ve been in a car crash. Your whole body aches.”
When asked why there should be any public concern for men accused or convicted of serious offences, McLaughlin said: “We know many people have no sympathy for us.
“Prisoners don’t expect kid-glove treatment. Jails aren’t holiday camps but neither should they be places of inhumanity. The dirty protest was a last resort because we were being treated like animals.”
McLaughlin claimed lights are deliberately shone into prisoners’ cells, or else their doors are banged three or four times a night, to stop them sleeping.
The prison service strongly denies allegations of brutality or harassment. The DUP accuses republicans of wanting to “turn Maghaberry into the Maze”.
January 4, 2012
This article appeared in the January 1, 2012 edition of the Sunday World.
Wednesday 28 December 2011
A DECISION to allow republican prisoners a £5 phone credit because their supporters were preventing visits has been slammed by a DUP peer.
All visits to Maghaberry were suspended on November 25 and 26 when authorities became aware of a planned protest at the prison.
Inmates – including the separated republicans whose supporters were causing the disruption – were then given the phone credit in lieu of their missed visits.
Lord Morrow described it as “a ridiculous culture of pandering to troublemakers”, and said it would not be tolerated in any other right-thinking society.
“The justice minister has confirmed only the republican wing are protesting, and at that, not all of the separated inmates support it.
“Prisoners – remand or sentenced – chose of their own volition to go into separated conditions and as such sign a compact agreeing to abide by specific rules. If they don’t like separated conditions, they can return to the main jail at any time,” the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said.
“However, if they do that, they will be met with the same, full search conditions they are presently protesting about, as such measures apply to all prisoners and are built into legislation,” he added.
During an assembly debate earlier this month, justice minister David Ford confirmed the protesters – from a group campaigning against strip-searching and controlled movement within the jail – had not sought prior permission to gather at the prison.
“The Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) became aware that a vigil on the grounds of Maghaberry prison was being planned for 25 and 26 November, when details were posted on a website.
“Following discussions between the police service and the prison service, it was decided to facilitate a peaceful protest in the grounds of Maghaberry prison in line with articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“No permission for the protest to take place was sought from NIPS,” the minister said.
Mr Ford also said attempts were made to contact the protest organisers to “establish boundaries that would facilitate the protest” but added: “No response was received from the organisers. The governor, therefore, arranged for notices to be posted.
“Those notices made it clear that the protest must be conducted lawfully, peacefully and without threat or intimidation towards any persons and must not cause any disruption to the good order and safety of the prison.”
Speaking yesterday, a justice department spokeswoman said: “Prison Service management decided to give all prisoners in Maghaberry Prison a £5 phone credit to allow them to keep in contact with their families during the two day protest during which all visits to the prison were cancelled.”
Commenting on a pledge by the minister to bring prisoner protesters acting illegally to justice, the spokeswoman added: “The PSNI has charged an individual in relation to (the Nov 25 and 26) disturbances.”
By Deborah McAleese
Monday, 19 December 2011
Thirty republican inmates at Maghaberry jail are planning to intensify protests which have already caused more than £1m worth of damage to the prison.
Justice committee chairman Paul Givan has warned that the jail is “being held to ransom” by the prisoners who, for more than 18 months, have been involved in protest tactics inside the jail.
They claim that conditions within Maghaberry are “inhumane” and are demanding an end to full-body searching of prisoners at the separated unit Roe House, where they are housed.
The Prison Service recently spent £35,000 on body scanners to remove the need for full body searches within the prison as part of an agreement reached with the inmates in August that temporarily halted the protests. However, the authorities have insisted that there is still a need for full body searches on entering and exiting the separated unit.
The inmates say this breaches the August agreement. They have claimed that since the agreement strip-searches have been “significantly increased” and their movement has been “severely restricted”.
No end is in sight to the stand-off as neither the protesters nor prison chiefs are prepared to back down.
It is feared that frustrations could once again spill over into violence. From April last year the protesters caused more than £1m worth of damage to cells, landings and a recreation room.
One of the protesters, Colin Duffy — who is currently on trial accused of murdering two soldiers outside Massereene Army barracks — has been charged with criminal damage caused during one of the protests.
He has been granted legal aid to contest the criminal damage allegations.
It is not just protests inside the prison that are costing the taxpayer money.
Two dissident republican protests held outside the jail last month by supporters of the prisoners cost the police and Prison Service almost £250,000.
Last week dissident republicans again targeted Alliance Party headquarters in Belfast, this time smearing the windows, door and buzzer with dog excrement.
Mr Givan said the situation will have to be brought to a head by the prison authorities and Justice Minister David Ford.
“There will soon come a point when enough has to be enough.
“The Prison Service and the Justice Minister will have to decide when to make a move to bring this to an end,” said the DUP MLA.
He added: “It is a highly sensitive situation but it cannot continue for much longer.
“It is costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, not to mention how horrible a situation it is for the officers working in Roe House.”
It is understood that one prison officer was forced to take early retirement after suffering from psychological problems brought on by the stress of working within the unit.
Total cost of the damage caused by republican separated |prisoners in Maghaberry jail from April 2010: £1,007,000
Breakdown of cost:
• Damage to recreation room on April 4, 2010: £17,000
• Cell damage on May 6, 2010: £13,500
• Cleaning cost of protest: £187,153
• Refurbishment of landings August 2010: £141,317
• Additional staffing costs in 2010: £147,710
• Cell damage on May 6, 2011: £8,800
• Cell damage on June 30, 2011: £5,600
• Cell damage on July 1, 2011: £6,400
• Fire damage to recreation room on July 1, 2011: £199,100
• Cleaning cost in 2011: £157,005
• Additional staffing costs in 2011: £123,415
18 Dec 2011
Old Bailey bomber, Marian Price, has defiantly refused to condemn the dissident republican campaign despite spending seven months in solitary confinement in jail.
The North’s most high-profile female republican revealed the terrible toll her time in isolation in Maghaberry prison has taken on her physical and mental health.
But in an exclusive interview from behind bars with Sunday World, she wouldn’t condemn dissident republicanism or ‘armed struggle’.
“I remain a proud and unrepentant republican. I make no apology for that,” she said.
Price claimed as long as Britain remained in the North, “Irish people have a right to resist that occupation”.
Once a close associate of Gerry Adams, she became disillusioned with Sinn Féin in the mid-1990s and joined the dissident political group, the 32 County Sovereignty Movement.
Speaking from Maghaberry jail, she admitted only a tiny minority of people share her views which have little electoral support. “I accept what you’re saying but being a republican isn’t about entering a popularity contest – it never has been,” she claimed.
Price, a 57-year-old mother of two, has been held without charge in isolation in the all-male jail since Secretary of State Owen Paterson revoked her licence in May.
Along with her sister, Dolours, she became a household name when she went on a lengthy hunger-strike and was force fed in Brixton prison. Gravely ill with tuberculosis and anorexia, and weighing only five stone, Price was released on licence in 1980.
Weeks later, she was granted a royal pardon. Her lawyer claims this superseded the licensce, meaning she could never be returned to jail on the basis of her previous conviction.
Asked repeatedly in court to produce the pardon, the NIO says it has been “lost” and probably shredded. Price will appear before the life sentence review commission in Maghaberry on Wednesday.
Solicitor Peter Corrigan, will argue that she be freed immediately. “It’s very convenient that the only lost document in this case is the pardon,” he said. Corrigan revealed the UN special rapporteur on torture recently called for solitary confinement to be banned in all but “exceptional circumstances” and for it never to last more than 15 days.
“Marian Price has been in solitary seven months. This shouldn’t happen in a civilised country. Even those who vehemently oppose my client’s politics must realise this amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment,” he said.
There’s tight security on my visit to see Price. I’m photographed, fingerprinted three times, walked through an airport-type scanner, subjected to a body search and then the sniffer dog.
Price sits alone in a large, soulless room in an isolated part of the jail. Neatly dressed in a cream top and grey trousers, wearing a Celtic cross on a gold chain and pearl earrings, she seems more like a middle-class professional woman than a republican prisoner.
Calm, but clearly stressed, Price said: “I get three visits a week in Maghaberry. Those three hours’ conversation is the only contact I have with other human beings. Of course, it’s taking its toll on me.”
Her hands and arms are covered in psoriasis, brought on by stress. She’s shed several stones in weight and is losing her hair. “When I brush it every morning, it falls into the wash-hand basin in clumps,” she said.
The DUP claim she’s enjoying a life of luxury in the Co Antrim prison. “That’s ludicrous,” she said, describing in detail her existence in a small sparse cell and tiny exercise yard.
“My cell is 10 x 7 ft. It has a bed, a toilet, a wash-basin and a TV which I pay for. During the day, I have access to a recreation room – with a TV – and a shower room which was so filthy I’d to clean it myself before using it.”
The perimeter of her exercise yard measures just 85 paces and is surrounded by a 25-ft high wall.
She speaks of the “mind-numbing boredom” of solitary. She’s allowed only two books a week. She reads Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson’s novels and surprisingly the right-wing British Daily Mail “for the word puzzles”.
She watches nature and current affairs’ documentaries on TV. Again confounding the Irish republican stereotype, her favourite programmes are the English period dramas ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘The House of Elliott’ – “I love the fashion, especially the hats and the coats with the embroidered sleeves!” she declares.
She praised the female prison officers who are nearly all from the unionist community: “Bar a few, they’ve been lovely and many have been very kind. In a different life, we’d be friends. But the reality in Maghaberry is I’m the prisoner and they’re my jailers.”
With her sister Dolours and Gerry Kelly, now a senior Sinn Féin politician, Price was part of an IRA team which in 1973 planted four bombs in Britain, including one at the Old Bailey. Around 200 people were injured, mainly with flying glass. One man died of a heart attack.
The sisters were arrested about to fly home from Heathrow. While on hunger-strike in Brixton jail, Price was force-fed 400 times over six months. That stopped when a doctor mistakenly put the tube into her lung and she lost consciousness and nearly died.
“The moment I was imprisoned in Maghaberry, in my head I was instantly back in jail in England. I was institutionalised again. It was like the last 30 years didn’t exist. I’d got married and had two daughters but it was as if that hadn’t happened and I’d never had a life beyond prison walls.”
Price is currently facing two charges relating to dissident activity – holding a speech for a Real IRA member at an Easter commemoration and allegedly providing a mobile phone for terrorist use.
She was granted bail on both charges. When asked if she regretted involvement with dissident republicanism, she replied: “I’m not whinging about either charge. Let justice take its course.
“If convicted, I’ll serve my sentence without complaint. But I object to being held as a political hostage without charge because of my past, not my present.”
She added: “I’m in Maghaberry because Gerry Adams as OC of the Belfast Brigade sent me to bomb Britain in 1973 when I was 19. But then my memory must be deceiving me. I must have the wrong man because Gerry Adams was never in the IRA.”
Price stressed that, unlike many Sinn Féin leaders, she’d never lie about her IRA past and was “very proud” of it.
Asked if she’d condemn dissident attacks, she replied: “The 1916 Proclamation upholds the right of Irish people to take up arms as long as Britain occupies Ireland. I stand by the Proclamation which hangs in Enda Kenny’s office.”
She’s even more uncompromising than her male comrades. When a Sinn Féin delegation, including MLAs Jennifer McCann and Raymond McCartney, visited Maghaberry, the men dissident prisoners met them.
Price refused: “The prison staff said, ‘Your friends are here to see you.’ I told them ‘These people are no friends of mine. If they try to visit me, lock me in my cell.'”
Price claimed the NIO wouldn’t have revoked her licence without approval from Sinn Féin and the DUP. “Sinn Féin might be hypocritical but I’m not. I wasn’t having them shedding crocodile tears over my case to appease their grassroots.”
December 18, 2011
This article appeared in the December 18, 2011 edition of the Sunday World.
The Newry/South Armagh Republican Prisoners Support Group have announced that they will be holding a Whiteline Picket on Monaghan Street on Saturday 17th December at 2pm. The picket has been arranged in order to raise awareness of prison conditions in Maghaberry and lend support to Republican prisoners being held there. This is an Independent protest and is open to all Republicans.
By Eamonn McCann
2 December 2011
Lord Morrow was mightily miffed on Monday that Maghaberry prisoners have cost us a million pounds.
Justice Minister David Ford told the Fermanagh-South Tyrone MLA that: “The total cost of the damage caused by republican separated prisoners during their protest, since it began on Easter Sunday 2010, is £1,007,000.” A whole lot of lettuce, right enough.
Of course, if the protest had lasted only a few months, if it had been over and done with by August, the cost would have been far less, and final. This is not a thought likely to mollify the DUP man.
“It’s time for a clampdown on costs and those who are controlling this situation from the inside,” said Lord Morrow. “If they do not abide by prison rules, such as washing, they should be placed under the same sanctions [as] any other prisoner.”
The protest, he suggested, was aimed at recreating the “prisoner-of-war” conditions which obtained in Long Kesh following the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981.
But what’s striking about the Maghaberry protest is the relative modesty of its aims and, consequently, the relative ease with which it might be settled.
Indeed, there was a widespread presumption in August last year that the dispute had been resolved on the basis of an arrangement still available to all sides.
The issue at the heart of the matter is ‘full-body searching’ of prisoners entering or leaving the separated unit at Roe House within Maghaberry. It was the routine practice of full-body searching which triggered the launch of a ‘dirty protest’ at Easter last year.
The agreement struck in August, following a ‘facilitation process’ involving the Prison Service and the prisoners and endorsed by the Justice Department, involved a number of changes to the day-to-day regime and, critically, the replacement of routine full-body searching by an arrangement centred on the installation of a ‘Boss chair’, designed to detect hidden or banned items on the prisoner’s person.
The prisoners accepted that the Prison Service would retain a right to order full-body searches when the Boss chair, or ‘intelligence or suspicion’, suggested that prohibited items might be concealed on a prisoner’s body.
The position of the Justice Department, spelt out to the Telegraph four months ago, is that, “The Prison Service remains fully committed to the full implementation of the August Agreement.”
It added, however, that, “We recognise tensions remain in relation to the interpretation of the Agreement.” The prisoners and their supporters say that this is code for a refusal by prison staff to put the agreement into practice. They claim, too, that the Justice Department has been unwilling to insist on implementation.
Prisoners’ lawyers have suggested that these attitudes can also be seen in a failure by the department to introduce changes in the overall prison regime set out last February in the report of the review team under Dame Ann Owers.
This report called for “a programme of change and transformation of culture, approach and working practices”.
Eight months later, the team reported to the department that, “Little has changed in practice, despite . . . a new sense of purpose at the top of the service and support from the Justice Minister. The endemic and systematic problems . . . remain unresolved and public money is being wasted.”
The wording can be interpreted as ascribing a share at least of responsibility for the persistence of the “endemic and systematic problems” on rank-and-file elements, as opposed to “the top” of the Prison Service.
Whether the amount of public money identified as having been wasted as a result equals or surpasses the £1m loss exercising Lord Morrow may be a matter of speculation. But it seems likely.
The prisoners enjoy little public sympathy. The actions which they have been convicted or accused of are deeply unpopular.
They may be able, plausibly, to see themselves as the successors, or continuation, of the Provisional and other manifestations of the IRA. But even accepting this designation, they are soldiers who have been deemed surplus to requirements now the war is over.
And former IRA leaders now embedded in constitutional politics, notwithstanding carefully calibrated expressions of concern, have a greater vested interest than most in denying them the legitimacy which they fear might be implied by special prison arrangements. The Maghaberry prisoners have no obvious area of potential support to turn to.
Against this background, irrespective of how obvious a solution might seem when set down on paper, it is difficult to envisage the dispute ending any time soon.
And we all know what the likely next step in escalation will be.