Maghaberry protest ends
Maghaberry protest ends

The protest by republican prisoners at Maghaberry prison has ended after three weeks of talks.

About 30 prisoners were involved in the protest, which began in the prison’s Roe House on Easter Sunday and lasted over three months.

In a statement trade unionists, who facilitated the talks, say they had resulted in a positive outcome.

“The dialogue was carried out in an atmosphere of mutual respect”, the mediators 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.”

On Sunday, the situation at the jail escalated when all visits for the prisoners in Roe House were stopped after negotiations came to a halt.

The men were locked up for 24 hours with no phone calls, exercise or visits.

When visitors to nine of the prisoners went to the visiting area they were falsely told by the prison warders that the men had refused to come out of their cells.

They were then told “the governor had implemented Rule 7” and that the “normal prison regime had been cancelled”.

It later emerged that the authorities refused to let the men out of their cells “for health and safety reasons” because when the warders open the doors, the men threw their carton of waste out on to the landing.

However, it is now understood that new technology will be introduced to bring an end to strip searching, while controlled movement is to be phased out -- satisfying the prisoners’ two main demands.

The prisoners were reported to have celebrated the end of their protest in the canteen last [Thursday] night by shaving off their beards and cutting their hair, a visible expression of the end of their ‘dirty protest’.

The Concerned Families and Friends group, which supports the prisoners, paid tribute to “all those people who worked away quietly in the background and lobbied intensively for a resolution to the prison crisis. “

The Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA) also paid tribute to the prisoners, their families and all those who supported them.

“While we are conscious that previous resolutions arrived at by the POW’s and the authorities have not always lasted due to bad faith on behalf of the British we are confident that with good will on all side this agreement can be made to work,” the group said.

Sinn Fein said Martin McGuinness had raised the issue with Six County Justice Minister David Ford earlier this week after talks appeared to break down.

Welcoming the ending of the protest, Sinn Fein Assembly member Caral Ni Chuilin said prisoners needed to be treated with dignity and respect.

“It is now important that the deal reached is implemented fully and in a spirit of good faith, and for our part as members of the Justice Committee we will continue to monitor the situation carefully.”

Minister Ford also welcomed the breakthrough.

“The welfare, safety and security of both staff and prisoners were central to the discussions and I’m pleased that an agreement has been reached which allows for revised arrangements and procedures, but in no way dilutes the security of the prison or those who work and live there,” he said.

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