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Herald.ie
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.

Gráinne Brinkley
Andersonstown News
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.”

Andersonstown News
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.”

Negotiations continue.

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

Andersonstown News
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.”

Derry Journal
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.”

By Brian Rowan
Belfast Telegraph
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?

News Letter
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 Emma Taylor
Newry Times
December 13th, 2011
**Via Newshound

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.

Bobby Sands mural photo
Ní neart go cur le chéile

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