On Monday I and three other Independent Republican Councillors visited Republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison. The delegation consisted of Cllrs Angela Nelson, (Lisburn City Council), Bernice Swift, (Fermanagh Council), Anita Cavlan, (Ballymoney Council), Padraig Mc Shane, (Moyle Council).
Two other Independent Cllrs, Barry Monteith, (Dungannon Council) and Davy Hyland, (Newry&Mourne Council) were unable to attend due to prior commitments but are fully supportive of our initiative.
Our aim was to meet representatives from Roe 3 and 4 and CSU, (Controlled Secure Unit) to hear first-hand what their issues and grievances were. We are totally Independent we are only concerned about their human rights within the prison structures.
To give you some background this initiative began in January this year with me writing to NIPS (Northern Ireland Prison Service) and requesting a visit on behalf of the Cllrs. As you might have deduced this has been a long arduous battle with the system, which used many delaying tactics to deter us from going in but we persevered until we were eventually granted the visit. We were to be allowed 40 minutes with each group
Other political parties like Sinn Fein, SDLP and TD’s from the south have not met the same resistance so one can assume that is because 1,We are Republicans, 2, We will genuinely work on behalf of the prisoners and not only pay lip service to the issues.
We were informed that we would meet all of the representatives and at the time of the initial request we named the six prisoners held in CSU at that time who were, Liam Campbell (He has since been released) and the others named were Martin Mc Gilloway, Austin Creggan, Thomas Hamill, Martin Hamill and Gavin Coyle. The prisoners in Roe House would decide who would attend the visit.
We arrived at the prison at 9am and were photographed, finger printed, scanned and searched and sniffed by the dog before we could proceed to the designated area.
Our first meeting was with Republican Prisoners from Roe 4, and they were Paul Duffy, Damian Mc Kenna, Stephen Murney, John Paul Wootton, Neil Hegarty and Damian Mc Laughlin.
This was a very productive meeting were the prisoners discussed the many issues still outstanding from the August 2010 Agreement. There are too many for me to go into but I can inform you of the 3 core issues that require immediate attention to ensure a “Conflict Free Environment” within the gaol. They are 1. Strip Searching, 2. Controlled Movement, 3. Prisoner Isolation.
As you may be aware the prisoners ended their protest on 21st November 2012 (showing maturity from them), whilst accepting there were no pre-conditions on the ending of the protest but that there would be expectations from the statutory agencies to implement the agreement in full. That has not happened and it is now 7 months since their protest ended and the conditions have not improved.
The strip searching of the prisoners continues and though they are not physically resisting the searches, they do not comply so they are brutally held down and forcibly stripped of their clothing leaving the prison domain and re-entering the prison, for court appearances or medical attention, even though they are not in contact with any other people outside of the screws. The simple answer to this is to use The Boss Chair, scan and rub down the prisoners! Why do they not?
The second issue is “Controlled Movement”. Until recently even though the protest ended 7 months ago the “Trained Riot Squad” was in full riot gear on the wing in Roe 4, this has only ceased in the last few weeks after the intervention of The Prison Ombudsman. Currently prisoners are only allowed out on the wing singly and are accompanied by two screws to where they are going. If a prisoner is going to the shower, his cell is opened he is brought to that area and locked in, if another prisoner needs to use another facility the same practice is used. If the prisoners are in the canteen they are locked in for whatever period of time they have the use of it. There are never any more than 3 prisoners out of their cells at any given time. The screws on the wing can deny even these limited accesses stating at times they are a man short on the wing because one has gone to lunch or some other lame excuse. There is very little free association if any, yet the agreement stated there would be unfettered access. Why do they not have this?
The third issue is “Isolation of Republican Prisoners”. The two priority cases of this illegal practice are Gavin Coyle and Gary Mc Daid. Both of these men have been held in Isolation since their arrest, Gavin is held in CSU and Gary in Bann House. I don’t need to go into minute detail here as you have access to their details from others. We need to be aware that both of these men are locked up 23 hours a day and have been removed from Maghaberry several times by MI5 to be interviewed without legal representation and to be “coaxed” to turn informant. Gavin and Gary should be moved immediately to Roe 4 to be with their Republican comrades. They intentionally keep these men isolated to make them feel vulnerable and to show that they have the power to do what they wish. It was our shared belief that an MI5 agenda exists within the gaol with the approval of the British Government.
The prisoners in Roe 4 have been working very hard internally to address all these issues with various people; The Prison Ombudsman, Solicitors, Governors, David Ford and The Director General of Prison Service Sue Mc Allister. Their dedication and commitment to resolving these issues are to be commended and all of us councillors were highly impressed at how they articulated their concerns.
During this part of the visit I enquired as to whether the other prisoners were being brought down to meet with us and I was told that they were not aware we were to see any other prisoners but those from Roe 3,and that Roe 3 had not coordinated their visit with us at this time. He then went to the CSU and only 4 of those prisoners were given access to us. Gavin Coyle was not informed by NIPS of our delegation that day therefore we did not see him. We met with the other 4 men named above and had an in-depth conversation with them about their conditions.
In conclusion my interpretation is this that “The August 2010 Agreement” could be implemented and offers and sign posts the way forward for “A Conflict Free Environment” within the gaol structures and nothing less will be accepted by the prisoners and the longer this prison crisis continues then there is always the chance of further protests in the future. It is up to all of us outside the prison to make sure our prisoners are treated with dignity and respect and that their basic human rights are given. The prisoners have met with other political parties and informed them of the same issues but to no avail. We Independent Councillors are determined to do everything within our power to bring an end to this stalemate.
Independent Councillors visit Republican POWs and Internees in MagHaberry | Irish Republican…
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