Irish Republican News · May 24, 2013
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Hopes for progress on prison dispute


A report by Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe could finally pave the way for a resolution of the dispute at Maghaberry jail.

Ms McCabe has made 12 recommendations in a bid to break the deadlock after an agreement between prisoners and prison authorities in August 2010 failed to be implemented. In particular, a commitment to introduce a body scanner to replace the brutal regime of strip searches was reneged upon.

The prisoners had protested at being placed under 23-hour lock-up and their movements heavily controlled. The British authorities responded to the protests with violence and riot squads. By 2011, the prisoners had organised a prolonged no-wash protest, recreating the dire conditions of the famous prison protests of Long Kesh.

Last November, after 18 months, the dispute took a deadly turn when prison guard David Black was shot dead in November as he drove to work. In a bid to ease tensions, the prisoners subsequently united behind an initiative to end their protests to bring pressure on the prison authorities to finally implement the 2010 agreement.

In her report, the ombudsman suggests the Prison Service faced work-related pressures which meant it could not live up to its end of the deal -- and presented suggestions to remedy the situation.

“In effect, the Prison Service made an agreement they were always going to struggle to deliver given the staffing arrangements, industrial relations agreements and working practices operational at the time of the August 12 2010 agreement,” she said.

She urged prison authorities to address issues of concern surrounding controlled movement and the “negative impact” that it and the “overly high” staffing levels had on the prisoners.

Ms McCabe also asked authorities to introduce education programmes and give prisoners access to library facilities.

Carl Reilly from prisoner welfare group Cogus, which represents prisoners on the Roe Three, said the report vindicated what campaigners had long campaigned for.

“The Maghaberry Prison Administration has lost its final piece of wiggle room. This report makes that clear,” he said.

“The August [2010] agreement must now be implemented in full, strip-searching must end, controlled movement must end and prisoners must be allowed to live with dignity and respect.”

In a related development, it was announced this week that Ms McCabe is set to be replaced next month as Prisoner Ombudsman by Tom McGonigle, a Criminal Justice Inspector. The appointment was revealed on Tuesday by the British Justice Minister for the North, David Ford.

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