Tensions continue to escalate inside Maghaberry Prison today after republicans were ‘disciplined’ last night for taking part in a 48-hour protest at prison conditions.
A spokeswoman for the Crown Prison service said that 28 prisoners faced “adjudication” after barricading themselves into a prison dining hall and “will face charges accordingly”.
Prisoners had been locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day following an industrial dispute at the prison, while prison visits were also disrupted.
It is understood the prisoners have now been moved to the punishment blocks.
In a statement, the prisoners warned of further protests over what they said is a deliberate decline in conditions inside Maghaberry.
“ln recent times continuous lockdowns and loss of recreation are becoming more and more common,” the statement said.
“Searches have also been conducted on our families by the RUC [PSNI].
“These lock-downs result in us being locked down in our cells for days at a time with no food, hot water and exercise, showers or contact with our families.”
Republican Sinn Fein spokeswoman Geraldine Taylor said that every prisoner who had taken part in the weekend protest had been informed on Monday night that they were to be moved to punishment cells indefinitely.
“When they got back to their cells they round that they had been stripped of all personal belongings,” she said.
“They were told that they were all being put on the boards (punishment) indefinitely and would only have the clothes they weres standing up in.
“These men are going through hell on earth and the outside world needs to know about it. We aren’t going to take this lying down.
“There will be major protests on the streets until this issue is properly resolved and these men are treated with dignity and respect.”
A delegation of former prisoners, which offered to mediate, said the situation at Maghaberry has the potential to escalate further.
“It can spiral out of control at the drop of a hat as we’ve seen,” said prominent republican Gerard Hodgkins.
“There is a serious problem here, prisoners are being ill-treated, the community is now taking an interest in their plight end yet there is silence from the politicians.”
Former IRA prisoner Tony Catney, a member of republican pressure group Republican Network for Unity, said it was becoming increasingly clear that Maghaberry was not “fit for purpose”.
“The establishment will try to write this off as dissenting propagenda but two annual inspection reports have said Maghaberry isn’t up to scratch,” he said.
“A number-one governor brought in to reform the regime couldn’t hack it and lasted just five months. Now what does that tell you?”
A republican ex-prisoners group called on British Direct Rule security minister Paul Goggins to intervene in the issue.
Coiste na nIarchimi director Michael Culbert called on prison chiefs to help de-escalate tensions.
“l am calling on the management of Maghaberry Prison to move immediately to set in place an appropriate mechanism to end the current conflict within that establishment.” he said
“We also call on the British prisons’ minister, Paul Goggins, to personally intervene in this situation, which can be resolved if there is a will to do so within Maghaberry.
“Humane conditions are not difficult to establish if there is a will to do so.”
Sinn Fein Assembly member Caral Ni Chuilin said many republicans believed that the increase in tensions was linked to an ongoing industrial dispute between the Prison Officers Association (POA) and the British government.
“Regardless of why anyone is in prison they are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity,” she said.
“lt is clear that the regime in place for republican prisoners in Maghaberry falls well short of this.
“Prisoners should not be held in 23-hour lock up, they should not have been denied the right to wear Easter lilies and the decision to remove 28 men to the punishment blocks as a result of the wekend’s protest is wrong and counterproductive.
“The Prison Service is one of those institutions that has to date escaped widespread scrutiny and much needed reform. This needs to be a priority for a new justice minister.”
A series of protests were being held across Belfast this evening in support of the prisoners.