Hunger strike at Maghaberry
Four remand prisoners at Maghaberry jail have commenced a hunger strike for their right to be recognised as republican political prisoners.
They include brothers Dessie and Tommy Hamill, Austin Creggan and Mark McGilloway, all from Dungannon in County Tyrone. All have recently been separated within the jail.
The Civil Rights Network said the four men wanted to be reunited and allocated cells on the republican wing of the prison after coming under serious physical threat by prisoners linked to the loyalist paramilitary LVF.
The men have been refusing food for almost three weeks following a series of incidents which has made it impossible for them to use the canteen.
One incident involved an aerosol can placed in a microwave oven by loyalists, with the intention of causing an explosion. They were then harassed by prison warders who blamed them for the incident and barred them from using canteen facilities.
Before deciding to engage in a hunger protest their sole food intake was based on purchases from the prison’s ‘tuck-shop’, or sweet shop.
Tommy Hamill, the father of two children, has lost 23 pounds in body-weight since his fast began, and is suffering form asthma and arthritis. His brother Dessie is reported to be vomiting blood, while Austin Creggan’s eyesight has deteriorated.
“With much dissatisfaction we note the lack of humanitarian concern reflected in a lack of media coverage and inaction on the part of prominent public representatives” said Fionnbarra O’Dochartaigh, co-ordinator of the Civl Rights Network.
Joe Lynch of RSF Limerick said that the men were entitled to be on a republican landing in the prison “but the prison authorities are refusing to move them.
“The men are being treated as criminals and denied access to other Republican prisoners in the jail which betrays the attitude of the British colonial occupier towards republican prisoners”.
“The British prison service through the jail governor continues to deny the men their rights by trying to give the impression that they are not welcome on a republican landing.
“Their hunger strike protest is to highlight their treatment by the British prison authorities.”
Meanwhile, eight republican prisoners and three former prisoners have been convicted of damaging their cells at Maghaberry in protests over conditions at the prison.
Each man was given a 20-month suspended sentence for causing criminal damage in the high-security jail’s Roe House wing last year.
All of the defendants denied the charge, saying they were protesting against forced strip-searching.
But they were found guilty at Belfast Magistrates Court solely on the basis of written evidence presented by the prison authorities.
Following conviction Conor O’Kane QC, defending, read out in court a statement on behalf of the eleven men.
It read that republican prisoners had reached an agreement with the Prison Service in August 2010 to end the routine use of forced strip-searching. This was breached the following month.
“By May 6 20ll, less than nine months later, all legal and political ellorts to bring a bout the end to this policy had been exhausted,” Mr O’Kane read.
“The republican prisoners believed they were left with no alternative but to resume their protest.”
Their action was necessary to prevent continuing inhumane and degrading treatment, it added.