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Back to the future?

Prison moves: From segregation to transportation

HMP MAGHABERRY, often referred to as a tinderbox, was the recent scene of a ten-hour- long siege inside Bann House, engulfed in flames. This block houses a loyalist wing, and what is described as an 'integrated unit'.
Recent news that talks between the Prison Officers Association (POA), the TUC and the government have averted strike action here and in GB, while being welcome, may send out a signal, that all is now harmony and light behind the high walls, look-out towers and barbed wire. Alas, such is far removed from reality.
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh • 3 February 2004

The campaign to bring about the separation of republican and loyalist prisoners in recent years led to the publication of the Steele Review in September. However, loyalist inmates were of the opinion that while republicans were well served by Steele's recommendation, the POA were dragging its heels on its full implementation because of a dispute with the NIO on the issue of security grants for their members' homes. These were officially approved on Friday, January 16, and vary in size, to a maximum of £20,000.

A flaming riot

On the evening of Wednesday, January 14, barricades were erected by around 35 loyalists. Various areas within Bann House were torched. The full extent of a wrecking spree was reported next day. Some eighteen POA members needed hospital treatment for burns and smoke inhalation during the overnight confrontations. It is noteworthy that there were no reports of loyalist prisoners being injured, then, or since.

Maghaberry, near Lisburn, once again hit the headlines. Taxpayers and journalists were expressing outrage. Expensive facilities had been destroyed. The jail's POA spokesperson angrily declared: "These people have gone on a rampage of wanton destruction. They have destroyed fridges, cookers, microwave ovens, food serving units, and two snooker tables provided for their own recreational purposes. They have completely gutted by fire an office with all its equipment. They have smashed up table tennis units and even televisions".

That same night British Army technical officers were called to the jail to deal with a suspect device. By mid-day Thursday the PSNI's Chief Constable issued a statement that linked the discovery of pipe bombs and associated materials, in Belfast, to the riot. Next day, Friday, witnessed Belfast traffic being brought to a virtual standstill due to bomb warnings, which turned out to be hoaxes. The media and authorities placed the blame at the door of the UDA, an overtly sectarian body that ominously is now "reviewing" its own cease-fire.


In a communication received by this writer, republican prisoners outline their responses to the 'Compact Proposals for Segregated Prisoners'. They express the wish that public attention is drawn to their concerns regarding future conditions at the gaol.

They state that, following actions by republicans, which included a protracted "no-wash" protest, the prison authorities "agreed reluctantly" to provide a Republican Wing, set apart from those occupied by criminals and 'pro-British paramilitaries' ". This decision was taken in line with the government-sponsored Steele Review. Subsequently, the prison service announced its intentions to launch a new regime for the Republican Wing, entitled, 'Compact for Separated Prisoners'.

In the republican prisoners' view there is always a tendency by the British authorities to act in bad faith following concessions made in consequence of protest actions. They therefore look upon the proposed regime with caution. On closer inspection it would appear that their collective concerns are well founded.

At the heart of the compact document lies the prison authorities' intention to deny normal everyday activities such as education, recreation, physical exercise, canteen facilities and regular association. The prisoners also claim, "even religious practice to prisoners on Republican wings", can be denied, which many would consider as totally outlandish, if true.

The denial of these rights, which the authorities hasten to assert are privileges, is, the prisoners claim, to be accompanied by daily cell and full body searches. While the former might be viewed as understandable and even a necessary routine, the latter is both very upsetting and most degrading for those subjected to such. The prisoners' communication expressed the opinion that these proposals amount to no less than punitive sanctions against those Republicans who choose to reside in the safety of their own wing. It should be borne in mind that before Steele, republican prisoners were heavily outnumbered on landings, and were subjected to frequent, often very serious physical assaults. These sparked the protests, both inside the jails, and on the streets, amid intense 'behind-the-scenes' lobbying of leading clerics, politicians, journalists, statutory bodies, the NIO, and prominent civil rights veterans, et al.

Onus on authorities

Of equal concern to prisoners, as well as human rights and civil liberties' groups, is the prison service's intention to enforce a rehabilitation scheme under the title "The Home-Leave Resettlement Boards", as a pre-condition to successful parole applications. This is not a voluntary scheme, as its operation will require prisoners to undergo formal risk assessment, which will rely upon input from the PSNI. The Probation Service and clinical psychologists will also be engaged to look for evidence that the prisoner has been "addressing his offending behaviour while in gaol". Such plans can only be viewed as yet another attempt to criminalise all republican prisoners and their political ideology, which was attempted also in 1976, leading to years of isolation "on the blanket" and a "dirty protest". These endured until after seven Provisionals and three Derry republican-socialists, Kevin Lynch, Dungiven, Patsy O'Hara and Michael Devine, both from the city, breathed their last, after protracted and agonising hunger strikes.

The claims that these proposals amount to a new "criminalisation plan", go hand in hand with the fact that this programme is currently mandatory for criminals and sex offenders, so from the point of view of republican militants, "is no less than a calculated insult to political prisoners who know full well they do not need to be rehabilitated from anything."

To-day's republican inmates, in Maghaberry and elsewhere, are highly conscious of past prison struggles. In response to current NIO thinking and planning, they vigorously assert, "In keeping with our integrity as Irish republicans, the well-being of future PoWs, not to mention the sacrifices of past PoWs on our behalf, we reject the 'Compact and Separated Prisoners' document".

As a result, it has been revealed that at least members of one faction of 'Oglaigh Na h-Éireann', that known as the Real IRA, have instructed its 'Volunteers', not to sign any document in relation to the "Compact Proposals". Prisoners, their relatives and others concerned with what is taking place within the jails, are coming to a realisation that this "Compact" could yet become another spur that will dig deep into the fabric of whole communities, as in 1976-80, and throughout many months in '81. It would be in everyone's interest if the NIO were to have a major re-think, for this "Compact" could well lead to the digging of untimely graves for yet more prison martyrs. In such a future situation, who could give peace a chance?

The onus is now on the authorities, both British and Irish, primarily the NIO and Prison Service, to create dialogue whereby arrangements can be produced which will avoid history tragically repeating itself. Even the 'Iron Lady', Thatcher, was convinced, eventually, on the errors of her ways, but alas, only after a very high cost in terms of human lives, both inside, and outside Long Kesh [HMP The Maze]. Republican prisoners see these latest proposals as an attempt to "criminalise" them, by using back-door methods. That is how they view current official plans, and who amongst us would be so foolish as to think that this re-packaging of an old and disastrous British policy, will not be resisted?

New transportation plans

And as if we had not enough on our minds upon which to concentrate, we now have latter-day plans for the deportation of 'disruptive' prisoners - No - not this time to the West Indies or Tasmania, but "across the water".

British government officials, as well as those in the NIO, must have selected for bedtime reading, texts relating to an age-old topic, "How best to deal with Irish rebels? The plan is to " expel" remand and sentenced prisoners here, and if the term 'disruptive' might suggest a mere minority, they will have to think again due to the recent flaming riot at Bann House.

The new powers are contained in the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill which is currently being debated at Westminster. The local October Fifth Association, comprised of 1968 civil rights veterans and supporters, are of the opinion that when this is passed into law any resistance by prisoners to this punitive regime could result in their removal from jails here. This would be a major economic and psychological blow to the loved ones of prisoners and their friends in particular. European and international conventions strongly recommend that prisoners should always be located within, or near their own communities.

The partial advances of the Steele recommendations in September have led to a degree of complacency on the part of families and campaigners, which may now be short-lived. The recent campaign for political status, no doubt will be re-launched, as all concerned with such now face, what many view as a new and sinister challenge.

The Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill, Clause 13, Transfer of Prisoners, reads:

"2A If it appears to the Secretary of State that:

  • (a) a person remanded in custody in N. Ireland in connection with an
    offence, or
  • (b) a person serving a sentence of imprisonment in N. Ireland;
    should be transferred to England and Wales, in the interests of maintaining
    security or good order in any prison in N. Ireland, the Secretary of State
    may make an order for his transfer to England and Wales, there to be
    remanded in custody pending his trial or, as the case may be, to serve the
    whole or any part of the remainder of his sentence, and for his removal to
    an appropriate institution there."

One notes it does not use the word , 'she', so is one to understand that females will be exempt?


The local civil rights' veterans group is but one organisation that has expressed grave concerns. The Celtic League has already written to the N. Ireland Secretary, Paul Murphy, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Dublin, and diverse agencies. One of these is the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment (CPT), urging them to apply pressure, as a matter of some urgency.

The Celtic League, for many years has been highly influential on numerous fronts. It has branches in six Celtic countries of the western British Isles and Brittany. It works to promote co-operation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It targets human rights abuse and monitors all military activity within these areas.

The CPT is based in the Council of Europe complex in Strasbourg, France. The League urges the CPT to tackle this issue "without delay" and "to enquire into the circumstances surrounding these proposals which seem to be motivated more by political expediency than concern for the security or well being of the prisoners or their families."

It concludes, "Enforced movement of prison inmates between jurisdictions is something that our organisation has spoken out strongly about in the past. It is not only morally questionable, it is a clear breach of European Model Prison Rules which place a great emphasis on the need for prison inmates to be held in close proximity to their family, but also their community". The League brands the policy as "flawed" and calls for a rethink by officialdom.

* The October Fifth Association, a network of 1968 civil rights' veterans and supporters can be contacted via
Its forum, and others can be located on the Irish Anti-Partition League's web site via






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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

31 January 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Language Belongs to All the People
Sean Flemin


Back to the Future? Prison Moves: From Segregation to Transportation
Fionnbarra Ó Dochartaigh


Evil Gets What Evil Gives

Anthony McIntyre


27 January 2004


Partitionists and Non Truth Tellers
George Young


Politically Correct: PC Orde
Anthony McIntyre


Statement of Liam O Comain to the Bloody Sunday Tribunal

Liam O Comain


An Aging Population
Liam O Ruairc


INLA Statement on unveiling of Neil McMonagle Monument


Inspiration at Budrus
Mary La Rosa




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