The remaining block of republican prisoners have ended their protest in Maghaberry prison after getting what they say was a “goodwill gesture” from Six-County justice minister David Ford.
A three-man delegation of senior prison staff, which included at least two deputy governors, met with representatives of the remaining prisoners on protest yesterday in a last-minute push to convince them to come off the protest.
A two-man team of independent mediators have also been working behind the scenes to reach a compromise between the prison authorities and republican prisoners following 17-months of protest by around 40 prisoners.
The prisoners have been protesting at the use of strip-searching, the use of restrictive controlled movement and other measures intended to criminalise their armed campaigns.
A prison guard, David Black, died in an attack by the ‘new’ IRA on his way to work in Maghaberry prison on November 1.
Prisoners housed on Maghaberry’s Roe 3, aligned to the Republican Network for Unity (RNU), have now said they will also end the protest which has been ongoing for the past 17-months. The protest has included a refusal to take part in prison procedures, and as in the early ‘80s. has seen excrement smeared on cell walls.
A statement issued on behalf of the prisoners said since the commencement of the protest in July 2011, “we made it clear to our representatives, that a genuine indication of goodwill on behalf of the state would be required before we would consider ending this phase of the protest”.
Prisoners aligned to the ‘new’ IRA and the Continuity IRA called off their protests earlier in the week.
However, the remaining prisoners insisted they receive some sort of confirmation that body scanners were to be introduced to replace strip searches before they would fall into line with the rest of the republicans held in Roe 3 and 4 of Maghaberry.
On Tuesday, the justice minister confirmed he would be introducing the new technology across all three main prisons stating: “There has been considerable speeding up of the process.”
In their statement, the ‘Cogús’ prisoners said they had held back from ending their protest until they had received “a genuine indication of goodwill on behalf of the state.”
“We would not have ended our protest but for David Ford’s announcement, yet we stress that our good faith is conditional on him keeping his word.
“We asked for a goodwill gesture which was given, we sought assurances on scanners and controlled movement. This was also given.”
It is understood that assurances on controlled movement were given yesterday by a three-man delegation lead by senior deputy governor Gary McClean that visited a representative of the Cogus prisoners.
In a more cautious statement earlier this week, prisoners on the same Roe 3 landing associated with the Continuity IRA said they had also chosen to suspend their protest.
“After 18 months of this second phase of protest, we believe that we have shown the prison regime our resolve and determination to oppose conditions not befitting Republican Prisoners of War. We also believe we can afford them the opportunity at this juncture to implement the agreement,” the prisoners said.
“It is our hope that with this magnanimous gesture the prison regime will now honour their word. As Republicans we will not shirk our responsibility and we believe that it is now necessary for us to take this lead in bringing the agreement to its conclusion.”
In his response, Six-County Justice minister David Ford said: “I welcome any initiative by the remaining prisoners on protest in Roe House to end their protest.
“The ending of the protest removes a barrier and will hopefully allow for a better environment to exist on the wing, which will be beneficial for both staff and prisoners alike.
“The initiative has been taken by the prisoners themselves. The Agreement of August 2010 has been and continues to be honoured by the Prison Service.”