A meeting between Sinn Fein and representatives of republican prisoners ended poorly with some of the prisoners issuing a stinging statement which said the visit had “laid bare” the reality of the current situation.
Relationships between republican prisoners and warders at the County Antrim jail are said to have reached new lows in recent months amid renewed tensions over the criminalisation of political prisoners.
A series of republican protests ended in August 2010 after a deal was struck with prison chiefs to end strip searches, controlled movements and other restrictions. However, the prison authorities quickly reneged on the deal.
The shooting death of prison officer David Black by the ‘new IRA’ brought about a hiatus in the protests. However, in recent weeks tensions have again escalated after authorities revealed plans to change the way family visits take place.
The prisoners have said that unless current arrangements remain in place they will be refuse visits.
In a statement by those being held on the ‘Roe 4’ landing, the prisoners blasted the Sinn Fein delegation who visited them this week as being “absolutely in league” with MI5 and the Six County Justice minister.
They compared the Sinn Fein delegation to the “Board of Visitors”, an administrative and disciplinary committee composed of civilians which were once appointed to prisons such as Long Kesh.
“Sinn Fein and others like them in the constitutionally nationalist camp along with David Ford should remember; just as before with the segregation battle in Crumlin Road jail and the fight for political status in the H Blocks Republican prisoners will resist all attempts to criminalise us whether through controlled movement, strip-searching or isolation.
“If Sinn Fein does not want to be an enabler of a British State criminalisation policy it should make it clear publicly and cease its support of the Stormont regime and the ‘Justice’ Minister.
“Tactics of Pontius Pilate and the uttering of polite, meaningless words have failed in the past and they will fail in the future. Twenty first century Republicanism needs to be defined by actions, not aspirations.”
The Sinn Fein delegation was led by the party’s Justice spokesperson, Raymond McCartney.
Commenting following the visit, Raymond McCartney said the party was working to ensure prisoners were being treated “with dignity and respect”. He said it continued to raise concerns over the “negative impact” of controlled movement and limited visitation rights.
“Sinn Fein will continue in our efforts to have all these issues resolved and will not be deflected by baseless rhetoric,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prisoner Ombudsman Tom McGonigle this week urged the British authorities and the republican prisoners in Maghaberry to revisit a deal agreed in August 2010.
The ombudsman said he was also concerned about the continued detention of republican prisoners in the prison’s punishment block known as ‘the boards’ but officially known as the “Care and Supervision Unit”. It is currently home to five republican prisoners who are being refused permission to move to Roe House.
One republican prisoner, Gavin Coyle from Omagh in County Tyrone, has been deliberately held in isolation in the prison’s punishment block for the last three years and during that time has protested that MI5 has attempted to recruit him as an informer several times.
Mr McGonigle said the activities of British military intelligence in prisons could not be monitored as they came under the sole authority of the British Direct Ruler, Theresa Villiers.