Irish Republican News · November 6, 2015
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
‘Dickensian’ Maghaberry condemned by inspectors


For the first time ever, official prison inspectors have issued an “urgent action plan” to authorities at Maghaberry jail in the wake of a recent inspection.

In another unprecedented move, they are to return for a follow-up visit in January to ensure recommendations are followed through. Follow-ups are usually conducted two to three years after inspection.

The high-security prison near Lisburn was found to be in a “state of crisis” in a devastating assessment by inspectors. One senior inspector, Brendan McGuigan, said it was in a “downward spiral that could have led to serious consequences”.

Two months after they visited the prison in May, the governor Alan Longwell left his post. He was replaced by former governor of HMP Belmarsh in south London, Phil Wragg.

The report noted that care of vulnerable prisoners was inadequate, with high levels of suicide and self-harm. Health services had deteriorated and some aspects were unsafe. They also noted that prisoners suffered excessive lock down periods.

Nick Hardwick, chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, said he had never seen a more dangerous prison environment.

“This is one of the worst prisons I’ve ever seen and the most dangerous prison I’ve been to,” he said.

“Dickens could write about Maghaberry without batting an eyelid.”

In three of the four criteria they looked at -- safety, respect, and purposeful activity -- the inspectors labelled performance as “poor”, the lowest possible ranking.

There was no attempt made to examine the plight of republican prisoners in the segregated Roe House section.

Six-County ‘Justice Minister’ David Ford dismissed the report, insisting action had already been taken to address the issues identified.

In its response, the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association said the report had vindicated its calls for the prison and those responsible for running it to be “consigned to the dustbin of history”.

“While the report clearly highlights the failings of the regime and rightly points the finger at its staff and those within its leadership, it falls short in calling for the heads of those ultimately responsible,” it said.

“We in the IRPWA hold no such reservations. We point the finger at those at the heart of the prison service headquarters whose policies led to such a damning report.

“David Ford, the so called Justice Minister at Stormont, is equally responsible as are all those constitutional politicians sitting in Stormont who were fully informed of the issues yet failed to ensure that real and radical change was brought about.”

However, the criticised the report’s “vague and limited” analysis of the situation at Roe House.

“No mention of the core issues of controlled movement, strip searching and the isolation of Republican Prisoners. No mention of the issues at the heart of the complaints and judicial reviews initiated by Republican Prisoners,” they said.

They also criticised the failure to examine the involvement of the International Committee of the Red Cross, or the “malign influence” of MI5 and the staff and management who work directly for them.

“Whatever the future may bring to Maghaberry Prison following on from this report, one can rest assured that Maghaberry will always be in the headlines until the issues identified by Republican Prisoners have been resolved and Britain desists from its current prison policies which like those it implemented in the past are doomed to failure.”

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