Hundreds of family members and supporters of republican prisoners staged a protest outside the gates of Maghaberry jail yesterday [Sunday] amid calls for an international human rights observer to see conditions in the prison first hand.
Amomg the conditions currently being endured by the prisoners are 23-hour lock-up, physical assault, strip searches and the obstruction of visiting rights.
Rosie Walsh, whose husband Michael was one of 28 republican prisoners who took over the canteen at the Roe House part of the jail on Easter Sunday, said the prison regime and strikes by prison officers were making conditions at the jail “inhumane”.
“To say the protest was over a recent event or because it was Easter is nonsense. This has been ongoing in recent months it’s got gradually worse to the point of breaking,” the Belfast mother-of-two said.
Mrs Walsh, from the Short Strand in east Belfast, said ongoing industrial action by prison staff meant her husband, who is serving a two-year sentence for blackmail, was late for his mother’s funeral during a period of compassionate parole.
“It’s inhumane treatment. We need help and we need an international independent observer to go into the jail and speak to the prisoners,” she said.
Following the end of their protest, the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA) said they were “paraded” by warders in front of a block which houses loyalist prisoners, where they were subjected to serious sectarian abuse, and contrary to the Geneva Convention.
Contrary to reports in the mainstream media, the prisoners were then moved to punishment cells.
Former prisoner Cart Reilly of Republican Network for Unity said the conditions at Maghaberry were verging on the “medieval”
“Easter’s incident at Maghaberry has been the zenith of years of mistreatment of Republican Prisoners, visitors and families,” the group said, claiming that prisoners were being used as “pawns”.
“Due to the maltreatment of Republicans in Roe House felt they had no option but protest to highlight the disgraceful conditions they endure.
“The focus of confrontation at Maghaberry centres on the continued denial of political status by Britain and Stormont.
“It seems that despite the protracted campaign for political status that began in 1976 and culminated in the deaths of ten courageous Volunteers in 1981, British Crown Ministers learned nothing from repeated attempts to portray political prisoners as criminals.
“We also challenge Republicans to look at just how much has been given up to achieve so little.”
The IRPWA said the prisoners were being abused by a “vindictive and sectarian prison regime” and vowed to do everything in their power to “battle for conditions befitting republican prisoners”.
“We call on all Republicans, especially ex-POW’s, and those interested in upholding human rights to assist the prisoners in whatever capacity they can.”
The IRPWA said it would continue to hold regular protests and collections in support of the prisoners.
Speaking at Sunday’s rally, the vice-president of Republican Sinn Fein, Fergal Moore said that 30 years ago the people of Ireland backed the men and women in the jails in the north of Ireland in their fight for political status “which was then signed away at the stroke of a pen”.
He called for the same level of support today for the prisoners as was shown then.
“Since 1917 22 Irish Republican have died on hunger strike to uphold the right of Republican prisoners to political status,” the party said.
“In 1998 this hard fought-for right was signed away under the terms of the Stormont Agreement. However the present generation of Republican prisoners in Maghaberry by their resolute action have given a clear signal that ‘England will not brand Ireland’s fight 800 years of crime’.”