By Martin Mulholland, IRPWA
A new republican protest is imminent in Maghaberry Gaol due to the punitive regime inflicted by the Northern Ireland Prison Service and vigorously supported and administered by the Prison Officers Association. It is the belief of the IRPWA that the harsh conditions and arbitrary nature of discipline endured by the republican prisoners is a direct consequence of the British government’s decision to implement the Steele recommendations.
The POA have made their opposition to segregation for Political Prisoners quite clear and it would now appear as if the prisoners are being made targets for their spleen venting. A number of incidents recently have shown the deterioration of conditions such as total lock down, lack of recreation or education facilities, little or no association and the over zealous cell and strip searches. The republican prisoners have endured all of the above with patience and discipline following assurances from the prison administration that the difficulties that were occurring were just “teething problems”.
Patience and goodwill are now in short supply on the republican wing due to the deliberate provocation and aggressive actions of the prison regime. This regime is exemplified by the fact that the prisoners are now expected to eat their meals in their cells despite the presence of a fully equipped canteen. The men are also expected to wash the plates and cutlery in the same sinks that they carry out their daily ablutions, washing and shaving. Food parcels are banned from the outside in the interests of hygiene so it is difficult to see how washing plates and shaving in the same sink fulfills the prisons high hygiene criteria. As a consequence the republican prisoners are now refusing to shave or cut their hair until they are allowed access to the canteen or until other more suitable arrangements are made. It is prison regulation that any man who enters the prison is not allowed to alter his physical appearance and the men are quite aware that many of them will spend time on the boards but they have vowed to intensify their protest over the coming weeks and months until the POA and NIPS cease to use them as pawns and scapegoats in their petulant antics and games of brinkmanship with the British Government.