The shooting of a senior British prison official has drawn attention to the conflict in the north of Ireland and the increasingly bitter dispute over the treatment of republican prisoners at Maghaberry jail.
A well-planned ambush on a remote stretch of the M1 motorway resulted in the death of Maghaberry warder David Black yesterday [Thursday] morning. Black had been involved in the torture and abuse of republican prisoners since as far back as the 1980 hunger strike.
Although no organisation has claimed responsibility for the attack, there had been warnings over the years of an IRA response to the abuses of republican prisoners, chiefly by the Continuity IRA.
A government backlash today saw PSNI raids and arrests in Lurgan, County Armagh where the vehicle involved in the attack was said to have been found. Former internee Colin Duffy, who spent almost three years behind bars on IRA charges before finally being cleared in January this year, was one of two men detained.
Sinn Fein and the rest of the political establishment at Stormont have strongly condemned the attack.
“The killing of a prison officer yesterday is wrong,” said Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. “There is no future in such actions which are rejected by the entire community, North and South.”
He said the organisations that are politically associated with the armed groups had “no popular support or political strategy”.
“On the contrary they play into the hands of those in the British system who are opposed to the peace process and to its potential for achieving a united Ireland.
“These groups must be challenged. The media has a responsibility to ask these organisations where they stand on actions such as Thursday’s murder.”
The attack was also condemned by the DUP, the PSNI Chief Matt Baggott, British Prime Minister David Cameron and 26-County Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
But it drew little sympathy in hardline republican areas of the North. A ‘screw’ who had played an oppressive and mercenary role for the British Crown -- from the original blanket protest and the hunger strikes of Long Kesh, up to the current no-wash protest at HMP Maghaberry -- was seen as a casualty of the war he had engaged in.
Black, who was also a prominent member of the anti-Catholic Orange Order, was the 30th member of the British prison system to be killed in Ireland since 1974.
The attack took place just days after a series of international protests were organised by Republican Sinn Fein in protest at the abuse and criminalisation of republican prisoners.
At one picket in Lurgan last weekend, the RSF Ard Chomhairle member Cait Treanor was arrested and taken to Hydebank women’s prison in Belfast.
In March, Treanor was fined for ‘participating in and organising’ a march through Lurgan in January 2011 in support of Martin Corey, interned without trial in Maghaberry since 2010. Treanor refused to pay the fine of 700 euro imposed on her and so was arrested and jailed. She is expected to be released after two weeks.
Pickets also took place throughout Europe, in Canada and in the US to call for the restoration of political status and an end to the strip- searching and controlled movement of the prisoners.
Dieter Blumenfeld, spokesperson of the organising committee, said: “More than 30 years after the H-Block Hunger strikes ended, Irish prisoners are once again forced to protest for their rights. Some of these men are on dirty-protest for more than a year. Injustice in Ireland is growing.
“Marian Price and Martin Corey are both interned for more than a year and an Irishman held in a Lithuanian jail is denied his basic human rights.
“Only international pressure can be successful in the campaign to support the Irish Republican prisoners.”
There were protests in 11 countries on 3 continents. One of the protests, a vigil organised by Irish republicans of the “Maghaberry Awareness Group St. Pauli” in Hamburg was broken up by German police.
The following message was sent from the group of RSF-aligned republican prisoners at Maghaberry to the protests:
“Greetings from the Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry jail to the activists, supporters and participants of the International Day of Action for Irish Republican Prisoners of War 2012.
“We, the Republican Prisoners of War incarcerated in Maghaberry prison camp, wish to send greetings to those assembled all over the world today protesting on our behalf.
“At present we are engaged in a ‘dirty protest’ to end the archaic practice of strip searching and 23-hour lock-down, and to secure conditions befitting of Prisoners of War. The age-old British policy of criminalisation of Irish Republican prisoners is in full swing in Maghaberry and as always we, as Republicans, will oppose this in anyway we can.
“We have been on this current phase of protest now for over 18 months and we see little movement from our captors. The conditions we endure are far from humane or acceptable, yet we will continue in our struggle until our demands are met. We have a duty to all Republicans and to those prisoners who may follow us.
“We find ourselves incarcerated due to British rule in Ireland and are part of the broader struggle for Irish independence. We take heart from gatherings such as this, that Irish Republicanism is alive and vibrant, kept alive by people like you. As Republican Prisoners of War we will not shy away from our duty and we salute all those in Ireland and abroad who work towards the independence of Ireland by any means necessary.”The support we have received from those across the world makes us more determined and resolute, we are indeed grateful for such support, and ask for your continued support and activism on our behalf.
“We applaud those of you who take to the streets all over the world in protest at the detention of true Republicans.
“We will continue to resist all attempts by the British government to criminalise us and our struggle and with your continued support we are confident of victory.
“Onwards to the Republic!
“Signed O/C Maghaberry Gaol