Disturbances are continuing inside Maghaberry prison in County Antrim amid concern by families of the prisoners that the situation inside the jail is increasingly dangerous and combustible.
The cells of republican prisoners were aggressively raided today and their personal possessions removed. Last week, a vindictive prison ‘riot team’ caused injuries to a new prisoner, Harry Fitzsimmons, as he was violently dragged to a solitary confinement block.
On Easter Sunday political prisoners in the jail took part in a disciplined protest to highlight problems they were enduring.
Ever since, republicans in Roe House have been denied proper medical, washing, association and exercise facilities. Currently the prisoners re locked down for 23 hours a day, leaving just one hour to fit in a visit (legal and personal), a shower, exercise and a meal.
The prison regime have been criticised in the past by the Human Rights Commission and Prisoner Ombudsman regarding serious irregularities and mismanagement.
The families and friends of republican prisoners have also subjected to long delays and oppressive searches from prison staff during visits to the prison.
Martin Og Meehan of the Republican Network for Unity called for a reinstatement of the humane conditions which were implemented following the 1981 hunger strike “where human rights and entitlements are safeguarded”.
“Without addressing these concerns properly, the situation will deteriorate further,” he said.
The two demands of the prisoners and the campaign on the outside are free association for all republican prisoners, and an end to strip searches.
Over 150 people gathered on the Falls Road on Monday [May 3] to show their support for the prisoners.
The picket, which was timed to coincide with the west Belfast route of the Belfast Marathon was attended by the family and friends of prisoners, former POWs, blanketmen and hunger-strikers, as well as progressive activists and republicans.
eirigi general secretary Breandan Mac Cionnaith said: “The demands of the republican prisoners in Maghaberry are in no way unreasonable or unrealistic, they are simply asking to be treated with dignity and respect.
“The conflict in Maghaberry can be resolved quite easily: restore the political status to which republican prisoners were previously entitled.”
Republican Sinn Fein said that the prison warders were making life “as difficult as possible” for the prisoners.
“Their violence towards a PoW [Fitzsimmons] as he was removed to the punishment block sparked the latest escalation. The screws were wearing balaclavas as they dragged him, for an indefinite period, to the block.
“Their aggressive attitude on the inside is matched by the aggressive attitude on the outside by the RUC/PSNI to the relatives of the POWs.
“One family has had their home raided 18 times in the last two years, last week the latest. The family have one son in jail and another was arrested and held for three days within the last few weeks.
“Prisoners on long-term medication have not received it for weeks now with the result that their medical problems are getting worse; the long-term effects of this cannot even be guessed at.
“The British government and the Prison Service are doing a ‘Maggie Thatcher’ on the prisoners in the hope that they will break. Have they learned nothing form the lessons of even the last 40 years?
“Locking the men up for 23 hours a day, continually strip-searching them , and depriving them of lack of food, medical facilities and exercise only strengthens their resolve.”
Continuity IRA prisoners at Portlaoise jail undertook a 48-hour fast last week in support of the Maghaberry prisoners and their demand for political status.