Convoy for the prisoners
Convoy for the prisoners

A ‘car convoy’ protest is planned for the weekend to draw attention to the crisis over the treatment of Irish political prisoners at Maghaberry jail in County Armagh.

The protest planned for Saturday December 3 will leave from Newry and travel along the motorway stopping off at Dundalk, Drogheda and Balbriggan before making its way to a traditional rallying point for republican protests, the British embassy in Dublin’s Merrion Square.

Organisers have asked people to bring flags, posters and loudspeakers and encouraged all those taking part to drive in convoy below the speed limit.

The campaign on behalf of republican prisoners at Maghaberry has grown steadily in recent months. A number of the prisoners are on a dirty protest over the continued use of strip searches and lock-ups by prison authorities, breaking an agreement made last August.

The prison was locked down over the weekend and visits suddenly cancelled when a rally and overnight fast was organised at the gates of the County Antrim jail.

Around 150 republicans took part in the 24-hour fast and vigil.

The jail was lit up with the colours of the Irish Tricolour as protestors launched fireworks and flashed green, white and orange lights, while the Tricolour and republican placards were placed on the prison gates.

Riot-clad prison officers with Alsatian dogs patrolled the prison grounds, as ‘A Nation Once Again’, ‘Sean South’, and ‘The Foggy Dew’ was played to protestors, many of whom slept overnight in tents outside the jail.

Mandy Duffy, sister-in-law of Maghaberry prisoner Colin Duffy – currently on trial for allegedly murdering two British soldiers at Massereene – told the crowd: “The prisoners remain unbowed and unbroken.

“They’ll continue their protest until strip-searching ends.” If republicans on the outside “showed solidarity”, the prisoners would secure their rights, she said.

Colin Duffy’s wife Martine, daughter Caitriona, and brother Paul, all took part in the rally. The protestors claim that, in a deal last year, the authorities promised to introduce electronic technology to end strip-searching.

David Ford denies any guarantees were given and defends the Maghaberry regime.

Ex-Provisional IRA prisoner, Tony Catney, branded him “a quisling with no spine” and demanded Ford implement the agreement.

“Our prisoners are being brutalised. They’ll not get away with, we’ll make sure they don’t!” Catney told the crowd.

Some prisoners are refusing to ‘slop out’ and have taken to smearing their cells with excrement or throwing it onto prison landings. They have grown long beards as they’ve stopped shaving and cutting their hair.

Gary Donnelly of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement said: “It’s shocking that in 2011, prisoners endure the same conditions as H-Block blanketmen in the 70s.

They’re living in their own excrement. Politicians must take action to sort this out.”

Ruby McConville, whose son Sean is a republican prisoner, said: “Visiting him is heart-breaking and leaving him is worse but his spirit won’t be broken.”

Ex-Real IRA prisoner Martin Rafferty of the Maghaberry Family and Friends group, which organised the protest, warned it was “the start, not the end” of the campaign.

“We’ve closed down Maghaberry for two days at considerable financial cost to the authorities.

“The situation can be sorted and future protests avoided if last year’s agreement is implemented and strip-searching ends,” he added.

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© 2011 Irish Republican News