A historic event to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1983 H-Block escape has become the subject of controversy today.
Brendan `Bik'McFarlane, who played a key role in the operation - which saw republican POWs take over a H Block to effect one of the most spectacular escapes in penal history - said that Friday's event will bring together most of the escapees for the first time since September 1983.
McFarlane pointed out that, ``not only was the escape a major military operation that dealt a blow to the British government - it's political ramifications were devastating.
``In October 1981, at the end of the Hunger Strike, the British government announced the defeat of the republican prisoners in the H Blocks of Long Kesh. Less than two years later, 38 of those `defeated' republicans smashed their way out of what had been claimed as the ``most secure jail in Europe'', inflicting a major political and military defeat on the British''.
The former prisoner also gave details the presentations that would be made on the night to the families of nine Volunteers who were part of the operation, but have since died.
``Three of those who escaped and died later on active service were Kieran Fleming, Pauric McKearney and Seamus McIlwaine.
``Larry Marley was killed by loyalists and Kevin McCracken was killed on active service along with Seany Bateson and Pat McGeown, both of whom died of natural causes. All played a crucial role before, during and after the escape.
``Volunteers Brendan Burns and Brendan Moley from South Armagh played a central role in ensuring the escapees safe passage over the border.
``Their families will be presented with a commemorative plaque on the night'', said McFarlane.
However, organisers of the dinner were attacked today for ``glorifying an act of terrorism''.
Hardline Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson condemned the event. ``I think that this celebration is totally inappropriate when one considers that a prison officer lost his life and others were left wounded and deeply traumatised because of the manner they were treated by the IRA.''