Efforts to end a dirty protest by republican prisoners at Maghaberry jail have made little progress, but talks involving the Six-County department of justice and the North’s Prison Service are continuing this week.
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said that members of the party had visited the jail and acknowledged their rights as political prisoners.
“Sinn Fein have sent a number of senior delegations in Maghaberry to explore the conditions and to meet with the prisoners,” he said.
“We have made representations to the Minister of Justice and to the appropriate officials with responsibility for the prison.
“I support the families of those prisoners and support the prisoners’ right to be treated properly and I do think they have grievances that need to be dealt with.”
Prisoners are being locked up 23 hours a day and are being denied food and visiting rights.
Last month they began pouring excrement onto the cell block landing in protest. It is not the first protest of its kind. During the conflict republican prisoners staged a ‘dirty protest’ in the former Long Kesh prison before going on hunger strike in 1981.
Republican Sinn Fein said the prisoners’ health is suffering due to the conditions in which they are forced to live, with little fresh air, exercise, natural light and lack of nutritious food.
The 23-hour lock-up ensures that the men only have a short time outdoors; legal visits, exercise and a shower must be taken within the one hour they are unlocked.
Two “cold and soggy” meals a day, at 12noon and 4.30pm, are no longer being supplemented with vitamins and canned food from a ‘tuck shop’ facility, which has been withdrawn as a punishment for protest.
The men, when asked to, are refusing to strip naked and be subjected to intimate body searches. This often means they don’t receive visits. In July the men were, and still continue to be, punished for refusing to strip and for continuing to take part in the protest.
Gerry Hodgins, a spokesperson for the families of the prisoners, said the protesters are demanding political status and access to legal representation.
“A prison will only work when there is cooperation between the prisoners and the prison staff,” he said.
“There is no cooperation in that prison at the minute, it is being run in a very vindictive and punitive manner.”
The Family, Friends and ex-POWs group have been campaigning almost on a daily basis, as have many other groups.
Their two demands are an end to controlled movement. and an end to degrading strip searches. There have also been calls for the prisoners to have access to adequate medical care, full time education and freedom of association.