The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Protest at Dundonald House

Foolproof systems do not take into account the ingenuity of fools.
- Gene Brown

Anthony McIntyre • July 3, 2003

In the past few days the issue of segregation in the North’s jails has made prime time viewing. For as long as I remember the separation of prisoners has featured in the discourse associated with prisons. Throughout the 1980s in particular it was a regular news item. The British state seems to think that if it builds a new penal establishment or change the name of an existing one that, hey presto, the nature of the problem shall have disappeared. Do they ever learn?

Maghaberry, when first opened in the 1980s was heralded as a model prison that would leave the problems of Long Kesh and the H-Blocks well behind in the distant past remembered for its relic status. Now it seems that the model prison is modelled only on the repressive strategies and practices developed in the H-Blocks. While talk of turning Long Kesh into a museum has quite legitimately been on the agenda of some, a more pressing issue exists in the here and now. That is to address the vindictive prison regime at present prevailing in Maghaberry.

Yesterday Dundonald House, which houses amongst other things the headquarters of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, was occupied for a short period by a number of protestors, either families and friends of imprisoned republicans or members of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association (IRPWA). The purpose of the occupation was to highlight the conditions in Maghaberry Prison. Central to the protestors demands was that of segregation.

Shortly before the protest commenced The Blanket was informed by a representative of the IRPWA that a picket of Dundonald House would take place. We agreed to cover it. Our reasons are simple. While we do not support any armed activity of physical force republicans and seriously challenge the validity of that tradition in today’s world, we do feel that those imprisoned as a result of their association with that activity are worthy of our support. Many of us at The Blanket are former republican prisoners and feel strongly about the mistreatment meted out to those in the custody of the British state. We also have a strong affinity with their families.

Having entered the building with the protestors I made it clear to the staff that I was a journalist covering the protest. At one point a person claiming to be in charge of the building asked me to leave the specific room where the protest was taking place. He said I had no legitimate business being there. I challenged him on this, explaining that I had a duty to report on an item that would be of public interest. For too long the business of the prisons had been hidden from public view and this had allowed for many abuses. I also suggested to him that it was ironic that he was asking a journalist to leave but not the protestors. While polite he insisted that I leave. I agreed but made it clear to him that I would only leave the room and would stay outside the door in order to report on the views and activities of the protestors. I also informed him that I would be willing to talk to any member of staff on any issue that they might wish to raise. He said that staff would be reluctant to talk on the record with a journalist but he was happy enough that I stand outside the room.

Today, Finlay Spratt of the Prison Officers Association appeared on television to claim that the protestors had inside information which allowed them to target the proper room in the building. This is utter nonsense. I followed the protestors into the building and up the stairs. It was an organisational calamity. They had no idea where they were going, running from one floor to the next chancing their arm until they found a room they could actually get into. The first room was the Department of Agriculture library. A member of staff in that room apparently told them that it would be a waste of time hanging their banners from the windows of that room as there would be no one in the fields to see them. At that point they ran across the corridor to the first room they could find that was at the front of the building. I asked many of them questions at each step of the way and far from being a well thought out ’military exercise’ by ’dissident republicans’ intent on mounting an intelligence coup against the British state, no one seemed to know what the next step was. It had all the strategic precision we would associate with cows in a field, wandering to whatever opening presented itself. The only reason the protestors got up the stairs was because the building was as open as Royal Avenue. At no point, apart from the incident in the occupied room, was I stopped or asked not to proceed any further.

Finlay Spratt is merely continuing in the money grabbing groove for which the Northern Ireland Prison Service is renowned. He is seeking to disguise the true nature of the regime that his members implement, and in deflecting attention away from the real victims is seeking to depict his associates as blameless beings innocent of any propensity for brutality or maltreatment. If there is the slightest shred of substance in his allegations that documents containing the personal details of prison staff were seized in the building by some of the protestors it is difficult to imagine how they were spirited out. The PSNI stopped everyone leaving the building, took names and addresses, behaved civilly and allowed everybody to go their way.

The Northern Ireland Office would serve the public better if it ignored the spurious allegations of Finlay Spratt and seriously addressed itself to solving the situation in Maghaberry Prison. Otherwise, future press reporting may be dealing with matters much more serious than occupied buildings or allegedly stolen documents.



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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.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

3 July 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Protest at Dundonald House
Anthony McIntyre


Dundonald House Protest (Photos)
Carrie Twomey


Conditions at Maghaberry Worsen

Lorraine Corr, relative; and statements from the IRPWA


Letters from Republican Prisoners
Rory O'More and Martin Brogan


30 June 2003


Bad News is No News in a World Where Sinn Fein Rules
Eamon Lynch


A Secret History Gets Told in Galway
Anthony McIntyre


The Legacy of Pedro Albizu Campos and Irish Republicanism

Aoife Rivera Serrano


Picking Up the Pieces
Cadogan Group


When Science Outpaces Law

John Harrington




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