British soldiers were deployed on the republican wing at Maghaberry jail as political prisoners maintained a standoff in the canteen, according to media reports.
Amid a communications blackout for the families of prisoners, it was claimed a bomb squad were in the prison to deal with a suspect device. All visits for Republican Roe House have been cancelled for two days, and the families have expressed grave concern for their loved ones.
Tensions at the jail have their root in the continuing regime of forced strip searches and controlled movement, but the situation has deteriorated in recent weeks, with the prisoners alleging a variety of abuses.
Last week, a prison official was injured when a device exploded under his vehicle in east Belfast. The group known as the ‘new IRA’ said this week it was behind the attack, and pinned the blame for the trouble on the government for their “dealing with the situation with republican prisoners.”
The group said the warder had been targeted because of his role in training the prison’s riot squad. The notorious unit has been responsible for a series of vicious assaults on the prisoners in recent years.
Using a recognised codeword, the statement said responsibility for Friday’s attack lies with the Six County justice minister and prison service director-general. “We quite clearly lay the blame for this with David Ford and Sue McAllister,” they said.
This weekend’s unrest may also be due to a new appointment to the prison staff. A statement on Friday from Republican Sinn Fein said a new SO (security officer) had arrived at Maghaberry who is a former member of the search team who had carried out “violent restraining and sadistic strip searches against the PoWs”.
“The prisoners reacted to this appointment with a show of defiance by playing rebel music. In reaction to this the governor Brian Armour went onto the landing yesterday evening, demanding the music be switched off. The prisoners refused and the alarm was hit by the screws. This morning the landing was still in lock down and all visits were cancelled.
“Every Easter, republican PoWs and their families have to endure increased hardship, this intimidation will fail as all times before.”