A dirty protest at Portlaoise prison is entering its sixth week, with prison warders admitting they see no signs that the ‘Real IRA’ men involved will soon end their demonstration.
The prisoners began their protests after periods of temporary release were suddenly withdrawn by justice minister Dermot Ahern as apparent ‘punishment’ for republican attacks outside the prison.
The six cells have been cleaned just once since they began their protest.
Last Saturday, supporters of the prisoners rallied outside the jail and played music and blew whistles as the prisoners flew flags from their respective landings inside the prison.
The rally was organised by the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association, which is linked to the 32 Country Sovereignty Movement, and is being supported by the INLA prisoners also at Portlaoise.
In a statement released earlier this month in the name of “the Republican prisoners of E3 landing”, the prisoners attacked what thety said was “blatant discrimination and unjust treatment”.
“The process for Political prisoners has always been compassionate on [temporary release],” it said.
“We have always obeyed the rules set out surrounding releases of this nature. We have always maintained the integrity of being Republican prisoners by returning on time and there has never been an issue with this.
“We recognise the importance of these releases on the grounds that if we are to maintain family ties important events must be attended. In the past the [Irish Prison Service] has allowed Republican prisoners to attend funerals of family and loved ones. It has also allowed for important religious events such as Christenings, First Holy Communions and Confirmations.
“It has recently stopped all of this without any explanation being given. Examples of this include denials of applications to attend children’s First Holy Communions and funerals of close relatives.
“One application was submitted when a Republican prisoner’s only aunt passed away and the application came back denied after the funeral had already taken place.
“Another application was denied for a prisoner to attend the funeral of his twin’s mother and denied again for the twins Confirmation eight months after the death of their mother.
“We the Republican prisoners of E3 landing will not tolerate this blatant discrimination and unjust treatment.
“It is only following recent events in the six counties that this unfair treatment of our prisoners has intensified.
“We believe it is directly related and until the IPS and the Governor of Portlaoise Prison are willing to stop this harassment and mistreatment of all Republican prisoners we will commence protest. We will not be used as leverage for the British and Free State governments.
“We will not be broken.”
Meanwhile, it was reported last week that prisoners in the North are being mistreated during searches of their cells.
The British Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe wrote to British Security Minister Paul Goggins after dozens of complaints were made against standby search team (SST) in Maghaberry jail in County Antrim.
It is understood 50 complaints have been made in the last two years, but no-one has been charged.
Ms McCabe said in her letter: “Twenty-three of the Maghaberry cases have been referred to the PSNI in 2008/09, 18 of them since October 17, 2008.
“To date the Public Prosecution Service has considered eight of those cases and, in line with the above, made a decision of no prosecution in all cases.
“I believe that this is because the standard of evidence required to support a prosecution is not available where a case typically involves the word of one prisoner against three, four or even five officers.”
The Ombudsman said further allegations of misconduct had been made privately by prison staff concerned at the conduct of colleagues, but she claimed none of these allegations had been officially lodged.
Ms McCabe wrote: “It is, however, a matter of great frustration to me that prisoners are raising these matters, and asking for me to investigate and I am unable to do so because of the requirement for the internal complaints procedure to be exhausted.”
In Lurgan, a crowd braved heavy rain last Saturday to show their support for the republican prisoners currently incarcerated in the Six Counties.
A statement was read on behalf of the Continuity IRA prisoners in Maghaberry jail. It read:
“It is an honour to address you here today. We salute you, the Republican people, our families and friends who support us as we continue our fight for Political Status. Previous attempts by the Brits and their puppets to criminalise us was met with the necessary resistance and this is still the case today.
“We continue to be punished for refusing to take drug tests in order to receive the same standards of education available to other prisoners. We have continually stated that we do not partake in the drug culture and refuse to be labelled as ‘enhanced prisoners’. We are Prisoners of War and we will continue to oppose all attempts to criminalise us.
“In today’s struggle we are being labelled as traitors and worse by Martin McGuinness and his colleagues, and by the continuation of the Brit black propaganda machine. This is an old British tactic formulated in London by MI5, and ably assisted in their work by our former comrades led by Gerry Adams. We are not the traitors. The former Republicans who sit in the bastion of Unionism and administer British rule are the real traitors to Ireland and her dead generations. They have turned their backs on the Republican Cause and have betrayed our freedom struggle. They have sought to renounce the right to wage war against the British, whilst falsely claiming the name Oglaigh na hEireann. Adams and Co. do not own the rights to the Irish Republican Army, and we can assure them that the IRA remains alive and well and will continue to bring the fight to the British invaders.
“Internment has been reintroduced under a different name. We ask you to keep up the good work on our behalf and also on behalf of our comrades in Portlaoise. Our path is clear: Onward to a Free United Ireland! Onward to the Democratic Socialist Republic for which so many of our Comrades paid the supreme sacrifice.
“Beidh Ar La Linn. Tiocfaidh Ar La!”
Fergal Moore of Republican Sinn Féin Ard-Chomhairle later spoke. He referred to the anniversary of the death of Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike protesting criminalisation.
“Following the deaths of nine more of his comrades, political status was reinstituted in Long Kesh. However, this has all changed with the signing of the Stormont Agreement in 1998.
“We are told that the war is over and that there are no more political prisoners. Even some of those who were once considered Republicans have labelled Republican acts as criminal acts.
“The real crime is the continued occupation of Ireland by a foreign and hostile power. So long as this continues, history shows that there will be those who oppose it. Consequently there will be more Republican prisoners.
“We Republicans outside the prison walls must organise effectively to protest the denial of political status inside Britain’s jails. We must highlight the plight of the prisoners and build support for them amongst the general Nationalist population.”