A hunger fast by four Tyrone men at Maghaberry seeking to be housed alongside other republican prisoners in the jail has ended following developments inside and outside the prison.
It was confirmed this week that republican prisoners in Roe House (4) Republican Wing have accepted the men. The four, still housed alongside loyalists at Maghaberry, ended their protest after receiving confirmation of their agreement and an appeal for space to address outstanding issues by a prisoners’s support group.
Prison authorities are being urged to moved the men -- brothers Thomas and Desmond Hamill, Martin Mc Gilloway and Austin Creggan -- to Roe 4 Republican Wing forthwith.
The men embarked on their protest initially last month following threats and tampering of food by loyalist prisoners, which then progressed to a full hunger strike. During this protest the men lost large amounts of weight and were under the care of the prison nurse every day.
As weeks passed without movement or even media attention, the families of the men contacted ‘The Families and Friends Of Republican Prisoners Maghaberry’ group last week to intervene in what was described as “a life-threatening situation”.
Independent Republican Councillors Angela Nelson and Padraig McShane and representatives of the group met with the families on Friday 21st September in Belfast.
“The families gave us permission to act on their behalf and we requested the men stopped the hunger strike immediately to give us the space to address the issues,” the group said, adding that all four had resumed eating prison food by last Saturday.
Councillor Nelson, prisons campaigner Mandy Duffy and a family member visited Martin McGilloway and Thomas Hamill in Maghaberry on Tuesday.
“After speaking with us and being reassured they were now Roe 4 prisoners, the men were very upbeat and content,” said Ms Nelson.
“These men will need time to recover physically from this protest, and their fight to be transferred to Roe 4 to be with fellow Republican prisoners will continue.”
Councillor Angela Nelson said she will continue to work on their behalf until this situation is resolved.
In a statement issued separately this week by ‘Roe 4 Republican prisoners Maghaberry’, the prisoners currently on that republican landing said that after meetings with the families and the involvement of the independent councillors, they had moved quickly to confirm their acceptance of the Dungannon men -- but the prison authorities had not yet complied due to an alleged ‘threat’ to the men. There was no such threat on Roe 4, they added.
“The administration of Maghaberry were told by Roe 4 prisoners to move the four men over to the republican wing. Within days the administration informed Roe 4 prisoners that these men would not be moved over to Roe 4 as a threat was in place against them from another group of Republican prisoners.
“Thomas, Desmond, Martin and Austin were advised to end their hunger-strike to allow space to address the decision taken by the administration to deny them their right to be on a Republican wing.
“These men are not under threat from any prisoner on Roe 4 and we call on the administration of Maghaberry to move these men over onto Roe 4 immediately.”
In other part of Roe House (Roe 3), the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) have highlighted what they said is “an alarming shift in tactics” by prison authorities in their approach to the no wash-’dirty protest’ currently underway at the prison.
A number of non-conforming republican prisoners associated to the RNU’s Cogus group in Roe House are currently participating in the ongoing protest.
The RNU said Roe 3 prisoners are now being deliberately exposed to “dangerous” chemicals which are used by the authorities to hose down cells at regular intervals.
“Up until this point POWs were moved into clean cells while the hosing process took place before being moved back to their own cell 24 hours later, allowing chemicals to escape.
“Within the past week however prison officials have refused to allow men to spend the 24 hour hosing period in a clean cell. Authorities are now expecting POWs to move back into fume filled cells immediately after they have been hosed down, exposing them to dangerous levels of poisonous chemicals which screws themselves wear gas masks to avoid.”
The RNU also warned that some PoWs were being forced to “live in each other’s excrement” after being moved to another protesting prisoner’s cell before it had been fully cleaned.
In a message relayed by Cogus, political prisoner Tony Taylor said the prisoners’ determination remained strong.
“Far from displaying any good will towards the prisoners in Roe House, prison administration appear determined to maximise tensions, no doubt under the impression that through petty tactics they will undermine the morale of the protest,” he said.
“These type of tactics only serve to galvanise the determination of protesting PoWs”.