Overcrowding in the North’s jails has reached a crisis point with the prison population at its highest in three decades.
The sudden arrests of dozens of loyalists over the flag riots saw prison numbers soar last week to 1,815.
That figure could increase further, placing even greater strain on the North’s prisons.
The prison population presently stands at the highest recorded figure since the height of the conflict. ‘Roe 4’, which houses prisoners aligned to the Republican Collective landing (RCL) reached full capacity just before Christmas.
Four republican prisoners due to be placed on that landing had to accepted onto the last remaining space in Roe 3. A further group of republican prisoners were then held on the same remand wing as criminals and loyalist flag rioters, causing grave concern to their families.
In recent weeks, some prisoners at Maghaberry were doubled up in cells intended for one person as the number of remand prisoners soared.
A spokesman for the prison authorities insisted there was “adequate provision” for the prison, with some being moved to a second (criminal) prison in Magilligan, Derry.
“While the prison population has risen recently, which has placed an additional pressure on Maghaberry prison, two new house blocks have been built at Maghaberry in addition to a new unit in Magilligan,” he said.
In 1997, prior to the early release of 450 prisoners under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement there was an average of around 1,630 prisoners in the north.
That figure was passed for the fist time in 2009 when there was a high of more than 1,650 prisoners.
Cogus, which represents Roe 3 prisoners, has called for extended space at Roe House to be made available for all republicans in the jail.
Meanwhile, campaigns are continuing to free those republicans who have remain effectively interned at the jail.
éirígí has intensified its campaign for the release of imprisoned party activist Stephen Murney, with protests in Dublin and Belfast. Tomorrow (Saturday, February 9th) a protest will take place at 1pm at the International Wall on the Falls Road.
Following years of police harassment over his political activity, Mr Murney has been charged with a variety of offences following a raid on his home in Newry.
éirígí chairperson Briean Leeson said, “The so called evidence that has been produced by the PSNI against Stephen Murney is nothing short of a farce, but under British law it is sufficient to hold him in custody for up to two years.
“Like a growing number of others, who have also been effectively interned, Stephen’s case highlights the ongoing nature of British injustice in Ireland.”
He said the party’s activism had brought its members and supporters “into direct conflict with the British state”.
“Stephen Murney has proven himself to be an articulate and consistent critic of the PSNI and the Stormont regime, and for this he has been imprisoned,” he added.
Meanwhile, two men wrongly convicted last year of the shooting PSNI member Stephen Carroll have been told they will have their appeal heard in April.
Brendan McConville from Craigavon and John Paul Wootton from Lurgan were jailed for life for the March 2009 killing.
Former 26 County Minister Eamon O Cuiv has met members of the families and is expected to attend the appeal hearing as an observer.
Two two men are being supported by Gerry Conlon, who was wrongfully convicted of the 1974 IRA Guildford pub bombings. He said it had been admitted that evidence against them had been tampered with, and they did not receive a fair trial.