Republican Sinn Fein have said that promises of a breakthrough in ending full-body strip-searching of prisoners in Maghaberry jail in County Antrim “have come to nought” following the announcement last month that the electronic scanning machine will not now be installed in the jail.
The promise of the scanner was made by British Minister for Justice at Stormont, David Ford, towards the end of 2012. It was a key factor in the republican prisoners suspending their dirty protest after three years in November 2012 “in order to give the prison regime another opportunity to acknowledge and implement the agreement all parties signed up to in August 2010”.
The ending of strip-searching and the establishment of free association for all republican political prisoners were cornerstones of that agreement.
The agreement was reached after protracted talks involving the prison authorities and Stormont officials.
On February 14 this year, Ford’s office and the prison authorities suddenly announced that the electronic scanners -- hi-tech equipment similar to that used at airports -- would not now be installed.
The British authorities claimed that the machines “failed to find concealed items such as drugs, scissors and knives during a trial”, even though airlines around the world routinely use the machines for security scanning.
It was claimed that more than 1,000 ODCs (‘ordinary decent criminal’) prisoners who took part in the trial were searched using the alternative scanners at Magilligan prison and Hydebank Wood over the past three months.
“The use of selected prisoners from the mainstream prison instead of using PoWs from Roe House for the trial tells its own tale,” RSF said.
“Mainstream prisoners don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to ‘offers’ from the prison authorities. It is common to offer inducements to mainstream prisoners to co-operate with the authorities the ‘it is in your own interests’, a veiled threat. Add to that the fact that it was prison warders who conducted the trial.”
In another turn, the prison regime added a further ‘rule’ previously unheard of with republican prisoners -- the prisoners have been told that they have to accept a drugs test before they can be granted parole.
Forced full-body strip-searches, and brutality used in these searches, are now being carried out on republican prisoners in Maghaberry jail, RSF said.
“This practice will never be acceptable. Neither will the continued harassment and intimidation of the POWs by the warders”.
“While we will not tar them all with the one brush, they will continue to obey orders from Whitehall and Stormont to make PoWs lives as miserable as possible as the alternative is unacceptable to them -- a well-run Roe House where Republican Prisoners of War are treated as such -- PoWs with full political status.”