Attack linked to Maghaberry crisis
Attack linked to Maghaberry crisis


A prison guard has been injured in a suspected booby-trap attack on his car as tensions at Maghaberry jail have escalated once again.

It was reported on Friday morning that a device attached to the underside of the warder’s car partially exploded as it hit a speed-bump. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, which has been strongly condemned by the Stormont administration.

One shop worker waiting to open up his east Belfast store said he had heard a “massive” bang on the Woodstock road at about 7.20am. “I didn’t know what it was but it was huge,” he said.

It is the first serious incident to be linked to the breakaway IRA groups since the start of the year. The unusual location of the attack, in a strongly loyalist area, pointed to an increased capability to operate across Belfast.

It comes as a criminalisation agenda at Maghaberry jail has become increasingly confrontational and vindictive. Most recently, republican political prisoners expressed anger at systematic sleep deprivation, with night guards deliberately rattling and banging doors. Last month, the prisoners said that one individual, who they blamed for deliberate sleep disruption for over two years, had taken to wakening prisoners throughout the night by shining a high-powered torch into their eyes.

They have also complained at family visits being blocked for no reason, and at other abusive behavior by jail staff who have refused to identify themselves or wear identifying numbers.

The problems have their roots in a decision by the prison authorities to renege on a 2010 deal to end strip searches and controlled movement within the high security prison. Since then, the prisoners have mounted a number of protests, most dramatically in the no-wash protest of 2012.

In 2014 a ‘stocktake’ was carried out by an independent assessment team to examine the failed 2010 deal, although this subsequently appeared to be merely a smokescreen. A prison forum chaired by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) attempted to reach an agreement between republican prisoners and jail chiefs last year, but failed.

In a recent statement, they said: “This is no less than inhuman and degrading treatment and it is now being made clear to NIPS [the prison authorities] and all those concerned; if this behavior is to continue republican prisoners will not be quiescent in the face of such harassment and intimidation.”

And in a further statement on Friday, republican prisoners on the Roe Four wing of the jail accused the prison administration of continuing a “process of sabotage and antagonism” with security governor Brian Armour “leading the charge”.

They pointed to a recent report by prison inspectors which made recommendations regarding the treatment of republican prisoners and gave the jail an 18 month probationary period to make changes.

Instead, the prisoners said that ongoing harassment had been supplemented by a general deterioration of living conditions, with no efficient heating in cells since December and inedible meals. Prisoners were now being forced to sleep fully clothed, they said.

“It is clear that elements within the jail are now attempting to sabotage any potential progress.”

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