Republican prisoners at Maghaberry jail have condemned discrimination against Irish culture and traditions by the jail administration.
In a statement this week, they accused prison authorities of having ripped Irish language signs from the walls and refusing access to Irish language and musical education.
“They have prevented access to traditional instruments despite Ombudsman recommendations and have also refused traditional music classes,” they said
“They have refused to provide any [Gaelic sports] facilities, ignoring requests for such and prevaricating on other issues such as basic access to GAA nets.
“They have refused to allow in jerseys and T-shirts because, for example, they had the lyrics to ‘The Lonely Banna Strand’, a reference to 1916 and a quote from Padraig Pearse.”
Access to books and literature by Irish academics and CDs and DVDs containing folk songs and traditional ballads, have also been blocked, they added.
“They also charged a man earlier this year for erecting a tricolour during Easter week in a communal area of the wing,” the prisoners added. “So confident is NIPS [the ‘Northern Ireland Prison Service’] in its freedom from accountability that they have provided only outrageous excuses for their behaviour, amounting to thinly veiled bigotry and a dismissal of any notion of ‘equality’.
“They have ludicrously claimed that their right to deny the rights of almost thirty prisoners stems from the need for a ‘neutral working environment’.
“Somehow Republican Prisoners listening to music, watching films or reading literature featuring our culture, heritage and traditions will impact the rights of jail staff.
“This is especially ludicrous given that such literature regularly features in the media, such DVDs regularly feature on the TV, as does such music, which can also be produced via the vocal chords, which thankfully, NIPS have not yet found a means to suppress.”
The prisoners’ concerns were brought up in a meeting this week with Six County Justice Minister Claire Sugden by a group of 26 County TDs, but without a resolution.
Saoradh spokesperson Mandy Duffy also expressed her support for the prisoners.
“I totally agree with the Republican prisoners that this institution prevents Irish men from practicing their culture and traditions,” she said.
“Stormont has been shown to be both unwilling and incapable of bringing about the type of necessary and radical change that is required.
“A failed British Administration laid bear for all to see, despite the usual spurious claims by those at its helm regarding ‘progress’ and ‘equality’.”