Public urged to support prison camp-out
Public urged to support prison camp-out

A 24-hour rally and fast is to take place overnight this Friday night, November 25th, at the gates of Maghaberry prison.

Supporters and relatives of prisoners will sleep outside the jail in tents and camper vans.

The camp-out will take place outside Maghaberry from 1pm Friday until 1pm Saturday. All those interested in human rights and justice issues are being urged to visit the camp and show their support.

More than 30 republican prisoners remain on a dirty protest over forced strip-searching and up to 23-hour a day lock-up.

In a parallel with the height of the conflict, some prisoners have stopped shaving and cutting their hair, giving them the appearance of H-Block blanketmen.

Ex-Real IRA prisoner, Martin Rafferty, of the Maghaberry family and friends’ group, said: “The situation is deteriorating rapidly. It’s now at breaking point. We’re going to the jail gates to be seen and heard.”

Rafferty said that, in a deal last year, the authorities had promised to introduce electronic technology to end strip-searching.

“They’ve broken that agreement,” he claimed. “We’ve patiently given politicians, clergy, and trade unionists time to resolve the issue. Now, we’re making our stand.”

The republican protestors will gather with bin lids, a symbol of republican resistance from internment, while musicians are being organised to provide entertainment for a peaceful protest.

“We intend for our vigil to be peaceful. We don’t want to cause trouble,” said Rafferty.

“But the easiest way for the authorities to avoid any potential conflict at the protest is to implement the agreement and end forcible strip-searching.”

Republican campaigners have pointed out that a BOSS chair, an x-ray-type machine already in the jail, means strip-searching isn’t needed. They say prisoners leaving and re-entering prison for court appearances and hospital treatment could sit in the chair and be ‘scanned’ rather than strip-searched.

A report last month by Dame Ann Owers, commissioned by David Ford, stated strip-searching was “intrusive” for prisoners and recommended if “more effective electronic methods” were available, they must be considered.

Lorraine Murphy from Coalisland, County Tyrone, whose husband Kevin is in Maghaberry facing IRA charges, said:

“Dame Ann Owers is an establishment figure and even she says strip-searching is inhumane. Her report gives David Ford a way of ending this outdated practice.”

She contrast the situation with that in Portlaoise, in the 26 Counties, where republican prisoners are scanned electronically. She said her husband had endured “brutal” strip-searches at Maghaberry.


Fianna Fail deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv visited the jail last week, and vowed to raise his concerns over the situation at the jail with the British government.

But he said he had initially been denied access to the prison because he was a “foreign” elected politician.

“The prison service wouldn’t offer me a public representative visit - they said this was because I’m a TD,” he said.

Mr O Cuiv was visiting County Tyrone republican Gerry McGeough, who was recently imprisoned on Provisional IRA charges stemming from 1981. Mr McGeough is seeking to have his conviction overturned because of the unjustifiable delay in bringing charges 26 years later, in 2007 -- after he had lived openly in the North for over a decade.

The prison authorities had insisted Mr O Cuiv’s visit would come only at the expense of the McGeough family.

“I didn’t want to take Gerry’s family visit as he only gets one a week,” the Galway TD said.

“I found this attitude very strange, I would hate to think if an MP or assembly member wanted to visit a prison in the south that they would be treated in the same way,” he said.

However, after lengthy negotiations involving the Six-County Justice Minister, David Ford, the visit was allowed to go ahead.

Mr O Cuiv pointed out that, at the time of the sentencing of Mr McGeough, that it was accepted he was involved in cross-community work and “was no threat to society”.

“The situation with the ‘on-the-runs’ was left very untidy,” he said.

“When all prisoners were given early release regardless of the offence as part of the peace deal, they have been left without any conclusion and that is a very unsatisfactory situation.”

Mr O Cuiv said the situation over strip-searching could be easily dealt with.

“My understanding of the situation is that the protest is in relation to strip-searching and that there is a machine available that could scan prisoners and bring an end to the dirty protest.

“It’s important for the situation to be resolved and conditions improved as quickly as possible,” Mr O Cuiv said.

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© 2011 Irish Republican News