Gerry McGeough has just phoned from Maghaberry Prison following a massive search operation. While Gerry himself is not a protesting prisoner, he finds himself imprisoned in the middle of an escalating dirty protest. As in the past, a dirty protest involved spreading human excrement on the cell walls. Today, in 2012, the walls of the protesting cells in Maghaberry Prison are covered in human excrement. Having found it necessary to escalate the protest, the prisoners now throw excrement and urine out underneath the cell doors into the hallways.
When they entered today and carried out a search of Gerry’s cell, the dog had just completed a search of neighbouring protest cells. Already covered in excrement and urine, this dog was used to sniff through Gerry’s cell. His bed and blankets are now wet with urine, plastered with excrement and covered with dog hair. He will sleep in this tonight. These are the conditions a 54 year old man, who has already suffered two heart attacks and has five stents inserted, is expected to survive in. If your husband, father or any family member was found to be living in these conditions within a hospital, there would be outrage.
The protesting cells are cleaned once every six weeks. In the meantime, cat litter is spread over the floors. The guards wear protective suits and gas masks when they deliver food through the cell doors. Flies will be ever present and in hot weather, heating is turned up full. The smell is unbearable. In any cleaning operation, a mixture of excrement, urine, cat litter and chemicals will be washed back into the cells. When prisoners leave their cells, they will sometimes be forced to walk through this mess. The riot squad are on constant standby. If prison staff are seen becoming too friendly with a prisoner, they are moved.
This is allowed to happen today in Ireland because too many people are silent. You close their eyes, you close their ears and your mouths remain shut. What will you say if your own sons and daughters find themselves on a dirty protest? Who will you turn to when so many refuse to listen?
Libertad para Gerry
POSTED ON BEHALF OF : by Damian Herron
On the 1st July 2011 Cógus POWs in Maghaberry embarked upon a “Dirty-protest”. We did so after months of watching the Prison service and David Ford eroding the hard fought for 12th August Agreement. Both had been warned for months that their actions or lack off would force the prisoners hand and we urged the Prison service to work within the framework of the 12th August agreement.
It was a protest we didn’t embark upon lightly as we knew that our actions would bear heavily on our families, it would deflect republicans from the overall struggle outside and would have a physical and emotional impact on ourselves. However to do nothing would have put republican prisoners conditions in a deplorable situation, so with the sacrifices of republican prisoners before us as a beacon, we began a new stage in prison struggle.
The Crux of our angst is the deliberate misrepresentation of the 12th August agreement by the NIPS and the failure of the DOJ and its head David Ford to face down the naysayers, who are reluctant to penal reform and change simply because republican prisoners are the lightning rods of that proposed change. Republican POWs believed that strip-searching and controlled movement was fully addressed in the August 2011 agreement. Sadly rather than embracing the opportunities of the agreement and taking the opportunity to show pragmatism, the NIPS reverted back to their usual dogmatic and rigid policies.
When it was clear that POWs and the DOJ/NIPS were at loggerheads over strip-searching and controlled movement, as it had been pointed out to them on numerous occasions during the circular conversations that passed as the new “forum”. The POWs showed vision and a willingness to promote the agreement and to iron out issues of contention. On the issue of strip-searching pows offered to strip down to their underwear and shake their own under garments, this was the standard and accepted approach to strip-searching in Long Kesh right up to the point of closure in 2000. This proposal was rejected by the prison service that embarked upon a regime of brutal and sexually degrading strip searches of passive republican prisoners.
We began to passively refuse to co-operate with strip-searches while entering and exiting Maghaberry, the response from the prison service was to send a full riot unit into the cells holding us waiting to attend court or hospital. We were charged and pinned to the wall with a shield, then dragged to the floor by screws in full riot gear at all times they applied their knuckles behind our ears as pressure points and twisted our arms and hands into painful locks. They ripped our clothes and underpants from our bodies and then after searching them, through them back at us and exited the cell laughing. This is what David Ford; the so called champion of human rights turns a blind eye to in “his prison”.
Ten months into the “dirty-protest” has seen our health suffer badly as our protest continues. Our cells have lost all natural light as the walls and ceilings are covered in excrement, we are on 23 hour lockup and have to eat and sleep in our own waste. We suffer infections and some men have needed hospital treatment. Our cells are hosed down every six weeks and we are returned to our cells, the process for us starts over again, our long hair and beards are a public testament to Maghaberry visitors that all isn’t well in the “North’s most modern and secure prison”
Ten months into our protests and our refusal to co-operate with strip-searches seen David Ford finally accept what we and others had been saying all along. That technology existed that made strip-searching for the most part redundant in prisons. He accepted a recommendation from Dame Anne Owers to explore alternatives to “full body searching”. Over one and a half million pounds has been spent by the NIPS managing the republican prisoners protest, months of hardship and relationships destroyed in the short to medium term that could have been avoided with common sense and a desire to have a harmonised regime in Roe House.
On the 3rd May 2012 David Ford announced that he was introducing a pilot scheme of two x-ray style machines in Hydebank wood prison and in Magilligan prison. He didn’t say how long the pilot scheme would last or how quickly if accepted it could be installed in Maghaberry. When pushed on this issue Ford has been deliberately vague and ambiguous. There is no doubting that we as protesting POWs have won the argument on the futility of strip-searching in modern times. However without a clear timeline or tight framework to work from our efforts could be placed on the notorious backburner that exists within Maghaberry and our forced strip-searching and controlled movement would be left back in the hands of the NIPS, that is a position we will never accept.
In an effort to defuse tensions and to allow space to watch developments in the pilot scheme, Cógus pows through the independent facilitators informed the NIPS on the 7th May 2012, that if they suspended all strip-searches across Maghberry (as they had done for eight weeks after the 12th august agreement to allow time to install the boss-chair) That Cógus pows would suspend their protest. This offer was refused. On Thursday 10th May 2012 Cógus pows again offered to suspend the protest if the prison service would agree to pows coming down to their under-pants and shaking them ourselves, the prison service response was to offer not to have the search team forcibly strip us and that two prison officers in standard uniform would remove our clothing and that we would pull our underpants elastic out and allow a screw to look down.
We have been attacked and degraded by thugs in uniforms for almost one year now, we would not allow ourselves to be criminalised nor would we allow ourselves to be humiliated with their “latest offer” it was flatly rejected. No one can say that republican prisoners haven’t shown pragmatism or vision, we have no desire to be on protest for protest sake, however as we have shown in this communication, NIPS intransigence is fully to blame for the situation that prevails in Maghaberry today.
On Thursday 23th May 2012 Cógus pows have increased our protest, we slopped out onto the landings as the screws opened up for the morning unlock, the response has been to bring in extra cleaning materials and the screws have spread cat litter all over the landings, we intend in the coming weeks to enhance our protest further, if the NIPS believe that dialogue was or is a sign of weakness our actions now will show them that rather than burning out the protest, our intentions is to increase it. The Door isn’t shut however and if the prison service or Ford is serious about progress they need to act! Not talk! To show their sincerity in moving out of prison conflict.
Can we finish by thanking our families and supporters for your unswerving support, without it our struggle would be impossible…signed Cógus POW rep
POSTED ON BEHALF OF : Rnu Belfast
It has been brought to the attention of the IRPWA that POWs on Roe 4 in Maghaberry have been placed on 24 hour lock up since Saturday 7th April.
It appears that the sectarian regime in control within Maghaberry gaol are adopting this as a punitive measure in response to the wearing of Easter lilies by the POWs.
Lilies will be worn by the POWs until 12am on the 11th April.
The IRPWA condemn the defacto punishment adopted by this outdated regime which proves,if proof were necessary, that parity of esteem is non existent in either the British gaol or the British statelet and the remembrance of Irish patriot dead will not be tolerated by either.
Damien McLaughlin is the first republican prisoner to talk publicly about the “dirty protest” taking place in Northern Ireland’s largest jail.
The 35-year-old convicted paramilitary – who has just been released from Maghaberry Prison – took part in the protest, which involves mixing urine and excrement and spreading it around the jail.
The tactic was used by IRA prisoners in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They refused to wash, and grew long beards.
Similar tactics have been used in Maghaberry since May 2011 by an estimated 30 prisoners.
Rather than smear excrement on their own cells, most of them are throwing it out onto prison landings.
Prison officers on the wings are forced to wear forensic suits, latex gloves and face-masks.
Industrial cleaners are used to clean the wings on a daily basis.
The prisoners are protesting over the number of forced strip-searches taking place.
McLaughlin, from County Tyrone, said he underwent 24 strip-searches during his time behind bars.
He was jailed after being found guilty of possessing two rifles, a sawn-off shotgun and more than 100 bullets.
In a BBC interview, he was asked a series of questions:
What’s your problem with strip searching?
“Strip searching is a form of humiliation. There is no need for it. There’s technology to do it, the BOSS chair – body orifice security scanner.”
But the authorities regard you and other prisoners as dangerous men, they need to use the human eye and human touch in a search.
“The BOSS chair is a scanning system that picks up any of the things they’re talking about.
“People going onto aeroplanes go through these type of things. They’re not stripped going onto aeroplanes, and we know what can happen there.”
Exactly what form is the prison protest taking?
“At the moment the boys are embarking on a protest where they’re mixing their urine with their faeces and they’re putting it out onto the landings, and that has been ongoing since 6 May last year.
“They’re living in their own waste at this present time.”
When will it stop?
“No Boss chair – protest goes on. The protest will go on while they’re forcibly strip-searching republican prisoners.”
What’s it like inside the part of the jail you were in?
“The smell would be one of the first things that would hit you.
“I was talking to one of the fellas recently who came in while I was in, and he said as soon as he came onto the wing, the fumes and the smell of the human waste hit him, it brought tears to his eyes. It’s really bad.
“There’s industrial cleaners going all day trying to clean it. The cells are rotten. There’s human waste and bits and pieces of food lying in corners of cells.
“There’s waste all round the doors. It’s really bad.”
You and the other men in jail are seen as very dangerous people, what is the problem with strip-searching?
“The problem is you’re being humiliated and degraded.
“They’re making you wiggle your tongue, stand on one foot, wiggle your toes, all sorts of degradation. When they forcibly strip you, they send in the riot squad.”
You were convicted of possessing guns and ammunition, why should anyone have any sympathy?
“People who are sent to jail have lost their liberty. That’s bad enough.
“You don’t go to jail to be tortured on a daily basis, to be humiliated to be degraded. People go to jail to do their time.”
Are you sorry for what you did?
POSTED ON BEHALF OF : Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association
GOOD STATEMENT FROM RNU IN DEFENCE OF MAGHABERRY POWs
It has came to the attention of Cogus that some people who purport to be republican and claim that they support Irish republican pows have been spreading smear, lies and innuendo against the protesting Cogus pows.
We have been asked by republicans are Cogus pows en…gaged in a dirty protest or are they working a rota system for the protest etc etc. Let us say this without fear of contridication from any person or group, ALL Cogus pows (with the exception of two for medical reasons) are on a FULL “dirty-protest”. In clear terms that means that they ALL are in cells with the walls covered in their own human waste, in the corners of the cells maggots grow, the cells have blow-flies in them. Cogus pows are on 23 hour lock-up, they now get a four min phone call per day to family and friends. The two lads not on protest and two guests on occasions use their one hour out of the cell to make crafts used to help Cogus outside raise much needed funds. ALL pows in Roe can if they wish make crafts. One wonders at times if people see the pows as pawns or trophies. Cogus want to see an end to the suffering of ALL pows, some sadly it seems what to be seen as better than others inside and outside the jail, POWs abu.
POSTED ON BEHALF OF : R.N.U. (Irish Socialist-Republican Political Lobby Group)