Irish Republican News · July 3, 2011
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Prisoners protest at Maghaberry amid talks reports

A new protest is underway at Maghaberry jail to bring pressure for a resolution to a long-running standoff over conditions at the notorious County Antrim prison.

The prisoners are attempting to convince the British government to reinstate an agreement reached last August. Although that agreement fell short of their demands for recognition as political prisoners, it successfully addressed a number of grievances.

Issues such as an end to degrading strip-searches, the right to free association and reduced lock-up times formed part of the demands of the prisoners, a number of whom remain involved in a 1980s style ‘dirty protest’.

Prominent Lurgan republican Colin Duffy did not appear at a bail hearing on Tuesday due to the issue of strip-searches, his lawyer said. Mr Duffy is violently forced to undergo a strip search en route to and on return from every court hearing.

Amid reports that intermediaries are working to bring about talks to resolve the dispute, the prison service said this week it was committed to dialogue to address “issues of concern”.

And despite the brutal assaults used to enforce the strip-search policy, the prison authority spoke on Wednesday of having “duty of care to prisoners, staff and the wider public”.

It insisted “full body searches” were a “requirement on all prisoners”, but it also said it “remains committed to the full implementation of the agreement reached last August regarding Roe House [where republican prisoners are housed] and is committed to dialogue with prisoners so that issues of concern can be addressed.”

In a statement the following day [Thursday], prisoners aligned with the Continuity IRA at the jail announced they had commenced a protest.

“The decision to take this action has not been taken lightly and is a direct result of the non-implementation of the Agreement which was signed on August 12th 2010,” the statement read.

“This Agreement was signed by Republican POWs in good faith. It has became clear that the British Government and their relevant departments have no intention of implementing the agreement they signed.

“Once again the British government have embarked on a criminalisation policy within Maghaberry concentration camp against Republicans, and as such we are left with no alternative but to commence protest action.

“We ask our families, Republicans and comrades for renewed support.

“We are Prisoners of War; we cannot be broken or criminalised, and any such attempt to do either will be met with resistance.”

On Friday, a fire broke out in the dining room at Roe House, where republican prisoners are held. Little is known about the circumstances behind the fire, but it is thought likely to be connected to the prisoners’ protest.

Amid escalating pressure for genuine dialogue, the Belfast Telegraph reported on Saturday that it had been in contact with the IRA breakaway group Oglaigh na hEireann. In a hopeful sign, it said it had been told by an ONH source that there there was no threat of violence to prison staff. It is understood prison authorities had been seeking such a statement in return for holding discussions with the prisoners.

Republican Sinn Fein called on the British government to immediately take action to rectify the “current deplorable situation” at Maghaberry Prison.

RSF PRO Geraldine McNamara pointed to the 1981 hunger strike, 30 years ago this year, and said that “no-one wants to see a repeat”.

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© 2011 Irish Republican News