Breakthrough in republican prison protest
Breakthrough in republican prison protest

A dirty protest between republican prisoners and the authorities at Maghaberry jail in the North has been resolved to the prisoners’ satisfaction following talks.

Prisoners had complained about excessive strip-searching and controlled movement. The protest had escalated over the months. Some prisoners refused to shave or ‘slop out’ waste in scenes which recalled the infamous Long Kesh blanket protest.

A group of mediators, including trade union representatives, insisted the details of the outcome of the talks would remain confidential.

A statement said: “The discussions were underpinned by concern for prisoners’ rights and welfare, protecting prison officer safety, and maintaining the high security of Maghaberry Prison.

“This dialogue has resulted in a positive outcome and agreement to enable the protest at Roe House to end.”

As well as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the mediation group was said to include Creggan Enterprises from Derry and the Dialogue Advisory Group which is based in Amsterdam. Sinn Fein said it was also involved in the negotiation.

The dispute began on Easter Sunday when 28 republican prisoners barricaded themselves inside the prison canteen.

A series of marches to highlight the prisoners’ cause have taken place across the North in recent months.

However, the main demands of the prisoners -- an and to controlled movement and strip searching -- now appear to have been conceded.

It is understood that the current 23-hour lock-up and controlled movement and to be phased out, and that free association of prisoners will be possible between 8am and 8pm every day.

Random strip searching has been abolished, with electronic searches being introduced to replace the humiliating procedure, which prevented prison visits going ahead.

The Concerned Families and Friends group, which organised many of the marches, welcomed “the latest developments in the ongoing dispute”.

“After three weeks of intensive negotiation the British have agreed to change the punitive and vindictive regime republican prisoners were forced to endure,” the families said.

“We are relieved that our prisoners are no longer hostages to the whims of the Loyalist Prison Officers Association and share in the joy and relief of the prisoners’ families who have endured years of stress and turmoil and vindictive harassment at the hands of the screws.

“We pay tribute first to the courage and integrity of the republican prisoners who took a stand and challenged the Thatcherite policies of the Stormont regime and endured the punishments of a vindictive British prison system which tried in vain to crush their spirits.

“We also pay tribute to all those people who worked away quietly in the background and lobbied intensively for a resolution to the prison crisis. A diverse collection of community, political, religious and business people took time out of their busy schedules to devote time and effort to contribute to finding a resolution to the crisis in Maghaberry; they done this privately away from the publicity of the camera.

“We are particularly indebted to the herculean efforts of the negotiation facilitators who have spent practically all of the past three weeks in Maghaberry prison working to bring this day about. They were at times frustrated and at other times angry with the slow and obstructive pace of events but they held in there and created the space where a deal could be constructed. For their efforts we are truly grateful and appreciative.

“To all those people who marched, protested, attended pickets and registered their support for the prisoners’ plight: go raibh mile maith agat! It was you who made this day possible.”

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