Protesting republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail in County Antrim have begun a dirty protest after prison authorities refused to implement an agreement made with the prisoners to address their concerns at the conditions.
It also comes as ten prison wardens, suspended in the wake of the death by suicide of a prisoner in 2008, are to be reinstated. This led to the announcement on Thursday of the resignation of the director-general of the prison service for the last six years, Robin Masefield.
Sinn Fein’s Raymond McCartney said that reports that the reinstatement of those prison warders was the reason behind the Masefield’s resignation.
Mr McCartney said it was “seriously concerning” that warders, some of whom were clearly identified sleeping at a time when a vulnerable prisoner committed suicide” are to be reinstated.
He said there was evidence that the prison service, rather than being controlled by senior management “is in fact run by the Prison Officers Association (POA)”.
The prisoners have for some time protested at conditions such as the long lock-up which is still up to 21 hours per day, as well as the controlled movement operated at the jail. Only three prisoners are out of their cells at any given time in a move apparently intended to limit communication among the prisoners.
Education facilities remain practically nonexistent, and the general atmosphere, and indeed ethos, of the prison wardens is being described as oppressive, restrictive and designed to provoke confrontation.
Last week the prisoners stepped up their protest by embarking on a ‘dirty protest’ similar to those embarked on in the 1980s.
This protest means they are now using the floor and the walls of their cells to take their excrement and urine.
It is reported that the prison warders are forcing these back into the cells and blocking underneath the cell doors to make sure that the prisoners have to live in the most unsanitary conditions.
In was also claimed that warders have scooped up the excrement and thrown it over the prisoners and their bedding, affecting the prisoners’ health.
The men, when asked to, are also refusing to strip naked for the warders and be subjected to intimate body searches which often means they don’t get their visits.
Republican Sinn Fein has called on people to register their protest by contacting all media outlets as well as by protesting to Sinn Fein.
“Far from acting in the interest of the prisoners, it is in the interests of these British paid politicians, Adams, McGuinness, O’Dowd etc, to make sure this prison protest is not given oxygen.
“The last thing they want is to be reminded of the part they played in betraying all the 1980/81 hunger strikers by signing away the status they won by 10 deaths in 1981.
“These people are part and parcel of the British government which is standing over the conditions in Maghaberry.
“They draw their big salaries’ and would indeed occupy the office of Minister of Justice in the partitionist Stormont had not the Unionists objected to such a deal.
“But the Provisionals backed David Ford for the position, a man who believes the prisoners are ‘in a situation of their own making’.”
The following statement was released by RSF on June 16 in the name of the Republican POWs at Maghaberry jail:
“After having exhausted every other avenue available to us, we the POWs have been forced to engage in a protest to bring about an end to the degrading and inhuman conditions we find ourselves being subjected to.
“Our protest began after Mass on Easter Sunday when we secured the recreation room and erected barricades to prevent the screws [prison warders] from gaining access. We held this position for two days with upwards of 200 screws plus RUC in riot gear taking up positions around the area we had seized.
“Prison officials (accepted in consultations) in which we agreed to hand back control with the understanding that within 48-hours further negotiations would take place within the aim of resolving our concerns. The prison service reneged on their promise of negotiations, to no surprise to ourselves.
“Since then we have refused to participate in degrading strip searches and have been covering the observation flaps on our cell doors. Since then we have wrecked our cells in response to the search team removing a POW to the boards, where he was handcuffed to a steel bed and had his clothing cut off.
“We then had to pour urine under our cell doors to get rid of it, as we
have been locked down for 23 hours a day.
“In our efforts to resolve the protest we have met with the prison governors and found them uninterested to discuss in any detail the issues concerning us. We have also met with seven delegations of the so-called Justice Committee, which comprises members of PSF [Provisional Sinn Fein] and the SDLP [Social and Democratic Labour Party]. A further meeting was held with the Prison Ombudsman but to no avail.
“Having once again exhausted all avenues to us we feel the option left to us is to step up our protest.
“We call upon our families, comrades and supporters to organise again and step up their efforts outside with protests, letter-writing campaigns, leaflet drops and all other appropriate actions to highlight our plight.
“We salute your efforts to date and know we can rely on you in the future. For our part, on Sunday, June 13, 1020 we will commence a Dirty Protest.