The Six-County Minister for Justice David Ford has made an official visit to Maghaberry as tensions continue to rise inside the high-security jail.
While the minister was given a tour of the jail he did not speak to any of the protesting prisoners being held in Roe House, the republican separated wing of the jail.
Prisoners have been protesting at conditions including repeated strip-searching and a refusal to let prisoners out of cells to eat, wash or exercise.
The Alliance Party leader said yesterday’s visit had allowed him to see “first-hand the work taking place at Maghaberry and to discuss with prison service stall the challenges of providing for a complex mix of pnsoner”.
However, former prisoner Gerard Hodgins said the minister’s visit was a ‘wasted opportunity,”
“David Ford went to Maghaberry to get his photograph taken in an empty cell,” Mr Hodgins said.
“He spoke with none of the prisoners. He listened to none of the very serious complaints they have.
“As justice minister he knows he is going to have to confront this issue and hiding behind a Prison Officers Association gang of 20 screws just to get his photograph taken on a republican wing is no substitute for engagement.”
Last week, a group of family friends and former prisoners demanded an answer from the Minister for Justice as to who ordered the beating of new prisoner Harry Fitzsimmons.
“And who will be held responsible for it,” the group asked. “The Justice Minister or the sectarian cavemen of the POA?”
The group, known as the Concerned Families and Friends of Maghaberry prisoners, called for the immediate reinstatement of the “humane and safe” living conditions within the prison regime which were implemented following the hunger strikes of 1981.
“Maghaberry prison is a prison not fit for purpose; prison is a place of denial of liberty, it is not a sadistic toy to be utilised as a centre of brutality and psychological terrorisation where defenceless prisoners are subjected to the degradations of the hostage, as in Maghaberry today. We will not stand by and allow this draconian regime to continue unchallenged in Maghaberry prison. These prisoners are human beings and as entitled to protections under human rights legislation as any of us.
“The situation in the prison could be remedied quite rapidly with no loss of face on either side given that the prisoners are not asking for new demands or new mechanisms which have not previously been granted, and could quite easily be reintroduced.”
A mini-riot broke out between the PSNI and republican youths in Lurgan following an alert in the County Armagh town on Tuesday.
The PSNI patrols entered Lake Street, Lurgan when they were confronted by local youths.
The PSNI said its patrols were hit with two blast bombs and up to seven petrol bombs in the incident. It said six of its members suffered injuries and railway services were disrupted.