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Irish Political Prisoners Escalate Their Protest In Maghaberry

category national | rights, freedoms and repression | feature author Wednesday July 27, 2011 22:51author by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacity Report this post to the editors

After long history of resistance and broken agreements the prisoners embark on 'dirty protest'.

featured image
Maghberry prison

Maghaberry jail is where Irish Republican prisoners in the Six Counties who did not agree with the Good Friday Agreement remained while the Provisions walked out under the terms of the Agreement. Subsequently their numbers have been swelled by others also opposed to the GFA. Although the British and the Northern Ireland Executive's Justice Minister deny they are political prisoners, they call them "Separate" because they are separated from non-political prisoners within the jail. After broken agreements, ongoing harassment and violent and physically intrusive body searches, the prisoners now escalate their protest campaign.

A few weeks ago prison guards in riot gear entered Roe House in Maghaberry Jail with dogs and truncheons and attacked the political prisoners, injuring many.

This news will surprise some in Ireland and many more abroad, as some have been going around for years saying that with the Irish “Peace Process”, the Republican political prisoners left the jails. On a Youtube video (link below), one of the Belfast tour guides from Coiste (group of ex-prisoners associated with Sinn Féin) may be seen repeating this line; even a spokesperson for Etxerat (organisation of Basque political prisoners’ families and friends) has been seen and heard saying it in the video of their demonstration on 12th June in Bilbao. BUT IT IS NOT TRUE.

What is true is that those who follow the ‘Provisional’ line in the Republican movement were released on licence. The majority of the Republican prisoners of those days, certainly, but not all! Those prisoners who belonged to groups which did not support the line of Provisional IRA or Sinn Féin remained inside.

Later, others entered the jail as political prisoners, so that now there are around 60, two-thirds in Maghaberry (in the Six Counties), and the other third in Portlaoise (in the Twenty-Six). These are those convicted or accused of belonging to INLA, the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA, Republican Network for Unity and others. They belong to those groups which many call “dissident” although they themselves reject that term, saying that it is not they who have abandoned the fight for national liberation and socialism. There are also those who are accused of breaching the terms of their ‘licence’ (by associating with ‘terrorists’ or commiting some other offence), such as Marian Price and Brendan Lillis, and also McGeough, an ex-Provisional convicted recently of attempted murder of an RUC man back in 1981.

Not only are there political prisoners but they are now in struggle for their human and political rights. These prisoners are not given the ‘political status’ which was won by the sacrifice of ten hunger strikers (seven from the IRA and three from INLA) in 1981, because that was given up by the Provisionals as part of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

The prisoners are currently demanding free association among the prisoners in the mornings and afternoons up until 8.30pm and an end to the invasive body searches.

Previously the prisoners had been on a “dirty protest” in resistance to the campaign of the guards’ harrassment of them and their families. The responsible Ministry came to an agreement through intermediaries to cease the harrassment and to permit the prisoners to remain in free association until 8.30pm. Nevertheless, the Governor of the prison, saying he had insufficient officers, decreed that the association period should end earlier and the guards ordered the prisoners to their cells before 8pm. The prisoners refused and in came the riot squad, who had been in readiness nearby. Since then the prisoners had been on protest and were kept in their cells for most of the day (although visits from outside continued as normal).

After many protests an agreement had been reached between the prisoners and the Justice Department and Maghaberry management on 12th August 2010. The agreement was divided into three distinct phases:
In September 2010, the prisoners would finish their protest and the prison administration were to begin changing their procedures, including ceasing the intimate and invasive body searches, installing instead the ‘Boss chair’ which uses X-rays; in December 2010, free association between the prisoners in the Roe House block would be permitted; in the third phase a prisoners’ forum would be established to find ways to address any other issues that might arise.

Much of the agreement was broken, such as the free association until 8.30, while some parts have never been activated, such as ceasing the intimate body searches.

Each time a prisoner leaves the Roe House block and again when he returns, he is required to submit to the body search, including looking under his testicles, inside his mouth, inserting fingers in his anus. The prisoners see this as an attack on their dignity which has nothing to do with security, they refuse to cooperate and they resist and for this reason the procedure is always violent. The guards carry out this violent and invasive procedure even though the prisoners had no contact with anyone from outside. One prisoner, Colin Duffy, recently attended court clad only in his underpants; earlier that morning the prison guards had handcuffed him to a pipe in the bathroom while they cut his clothes off with scissors. Though they have the ‘Boss chair’ now, they never use it.

There is a long history of prisoner resistance to the regime at Roe House in Maghaberry Jail; a highly politicised regime for a group which the authorities deny are political prisoners but which they call “Separate”, by virtue of the fact that they are separated from the non-political prisoners. There was a long period when prisoners’ visits were being terminated on “suspicion of carrying drugs”. The “sniffer” dogs were being walked around the waiting visitors and whenever a dog stopped and sat down near someone, that person had to leave, as well as anyone with them and the meeting was terminated. No drugs were ever found on the political prisoners or on their families, who allege that the guards in some way signaled their dogs to sit and then used that to terminate the visits. Prisoners stopped that form of harassment eventually by a campaign of protests with the support of their families.

Not only do the prisoners suffer harrassment and assault but also, for resisting, they lose their sentence remission, so that their sentence is lengthened. The prisoners find themselves in a very difficult situation and there is a fear that one day they will see no alternative but the hunger strike to the death.

On the 29th June, the Commandant of the CIRA prisoners, in a statement distributed by supporters on Facebook, denounced the harrassment and that the agreements made had not been adhered to and announced that they were then going on protest. Since it is understood that they were already on a protest, this was taken to mean an escalation, probably a ‘dirty protest’. This is when the prisoners refuse to carry their urine and faeces in the chamber pots to dispose of them in the communal toilets but instead throw them out on to passage ways under the cell door. Should the guards put material there to block that, then to throw them out the windows. Finally, should the windows be blocked, the waste is spread on the cell walls. This was the stage reached before the hunger strikes at the end of 1980 and then of 1981, in which 10 Republicans gave their lives.

On June 30 a serious fire destroyed the dining area of Roe House and since then the prisoners have been locked in their cells 24 hours a day. A statement on the Cogús site (subsection of the RNU site dedicated to prisoner welfare and solidarity) announced that the prisoners are now on dirty protest.

The prisoners are isolated not only from society in general, for being republicans and because of the censorship of the mass media, but also from parts of the Republican and socialist movements as well, because of being “dissidents”. The majority of people who are in favour of the Good Friday Agreement do not wish to admit that political prisoners remain in jails in Ireland. Sinn Féin didn’t mention them for years and its spokespersons denied that were any political prisoners in Ireland.

This denial of reality has had an echo outside the country too, where Irish solidarity groups have had many years of good relations with Sinn Féin, or where liberation movements are considering a similar process to the Irish one for their own countries. They also contribute to the isolation; they do not mention the prisoners or they repeat the untruth that “the Irish Republican prisoners were released during the Process”.

Against this isolation, the “dissident” groups, including those who have no supporters in the jails, have united in a number of marches in the Six Counties, the most recent being on the 5th of June. There have also been protest pickets there and in Dublin too. Independent activists have also begun to attend these protests.

Pressure has mounted on Sinn Féin, externally and internally, to take a public stand on the issue. Recently one of Sinn Féin’s members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (the parliament there), Jennifer McCann, called on the Justice Minister to ensure that the prisoners were being treated correctly, although she spoke in terms of human rights rather than political rights. Very recently, a SF delegation including ex-prisoner Raymond McCartney has visited Maghaberry and called on the Minister to honour the agreement reached with the prisoners and to treat the prisoners properly. But what will the party do about this, rather than make statements? After all, a few of its members are actually Ministers of that statelet’s Executive, including one who is Deputy First Minister.

It is the growing unity of the Republican groups in solidarity with the prisoners, the increasing support of independent activists and of course the resistance of the prisoners themselves that give rise to the prisoners’ hope to break out of that isolation and to win respect for their human rights, without mentioning for the moment the concession that recognises what they are and for which so many have fought previously, including ten militants to the death – the status of political prisoner.

POLITICAL PRISONERS IN MAGHABERRY (ROE HOUSE)
(It is difficult to be certain about these numbers and an error of one or two is possible)

Group Politically affiliated or near to Numbers
Republican Network for Unity 16
CIRA Republican Sinn Féin 9
RIRA 32-County Sovereignty Movement 5
“Independents” 6
Special unit of the jail (Colin Duffy y companions) 3
Total 39

author by ....publication date Fri Jul 08, 2011 18:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

fair play diarmuid,important to highlight this issue,we ignore it at our peril!
sinn fein would love this issue to be forgotten how easy they have forgotten the past,
they're recent visit to maghaberry is just for show as far as im concerned,the way forward on the outside is the formation of a national solidatity campaign,given the fact the republicanism is so regionalised now,and the left are so weak on the issue, a coordinated campaign with one banner for example 'prisoner solidarity' is the way to go in my opinion.
for those who care,the following websites should be useful.

(you mention the possibility of a hunger strike to the death,i really hope this isnt the case.
there were two hunger strikes last year,gary donnelly and liam hannaway,one went on for about 43 days i think.)

http://friendsofcolinduffy.com/default.aspx
http://irishfreedomcommittee.net/POWs/IPOWS_LIST.htm
http://www.irpwa.blogspot.com/
http://republicanprisonersmaghaberry.com/default.aspx

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacitypublication date Sat Jul 09, 2011 00:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I agree about the need for a united campaign.

I also hope a hunger strike to the death does not happen but if the dirty protest continues, things don't change (and the screws up the ante) then that's what I fear will happen.

author by piopublication date Sun Jul 10, 2011 17:35author address author phone Report this post to the editors

theres a constant call for unity yet the links above all lead to 32csm affiliated /oriented groups when they are only a segment of the prisoners. perhaps if the outside support around the 32csm was a little less interested in using the prisoners situation (keeping in mind that the majority of the prisoners themselves are not 32csm affiliated) to their own advantage there' be more support not only from the other groups various but the general public as well.

author by PLpublication date Mon Jul 11, 2011 22:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A group of women from various backgrounds have recently united to highlight the plight of Marian Price and the dirty protest that has been on going in opposition to strip searching in Maghaberry prison.

We feel strongly that issues so sensitive are being largely ignored. So we would like to call on the public to support the human and oppose this degrading treatment.

We are a group who feel the politics of this situation are irrelevant and feel it crucial to highlight the important issues.

We believe the placing of a 57 year old woman into a male prison following the revoking of her license is internment by other means,and the on going strip search routine carried out by a riot squad on those who resist, is brutality justified under the guise of legality especially when there is an alternative.

On Thursday 14th at 7.30pm in Pilots row Derry we have organised a public meeting to help broaden support and to inform the public on how bad the situation is. On the panel will be family members and chairing the meeting will be Civil and human rights activist Bernadette McAliskey. All welcome.

author by Justin Morahanpublication date Tue Jul 12, 2011 19:21author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I support the human rights of prisoners and oppose all inhuman and degrading treatment directed against them. To me it is irrelevant who the prisoners are, from what background, from what political ethos. It is also irrelevant that I welcomed the Good Friday agreement and many of these prisoners do not. And although I am extremely saddened by and opposed to the violence expressed in Ciaran Murphy's "when I get out", I am fully supportive of all the Ciarans who are still in when they demand their human rights, dignity and truth from their State captors and the State's agents on the ground. Prison is a hateful and dire place for all. It n.eeds a lot of love

author by ...publication date Wed Jul 13, 2011 17:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

here you go,my original post wasnt meant to be all 32s affiliated links,and weren't ,the irish freedom committee isnt as far as i know. yes there is a constant call for unity because that the smart thing to do. im not saying unity under one groups boot,why would anyone want that?
im saying unity around a set of objectives and untiy around a particular stategy that others can get in behind. i think the link below should lead you to the RNU cogús pow dept. site.

http://www.republicannetwork.ie/index.php?option=com_co...id=30

author by Diarmuid Breatnach - Personal Capacitypublication date Thu Jul 14, 2011 19:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Most of the comments on this article have been helpful and I particularly welcome the news of the formation of the women's group. Let's keep it helpful.

I regret at this late stage to have to make some corrections but it is important that I am as accurate as possible. In the course of gathering information and writing the article, I used some shorthand and made an error which I now seek to correct:

5th paragraph: "accused or convicted of belonging to the INLA, the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA, Republican Network for Unity and others" is an error. Firstly, because the RNU is not an illegal organisation and secondly because normally in the Six Counties, unlike often in the past in the 26, conviction is not usually for membership, but is for alleged actions or alleged possession of weapons or parts of weapons.

Information given at bottom under heading: POLITICAL PRISONERS IN MAGHABERRY (ROE HOUSE) -- this was originally a grid, the lines of which did not come out in the Indymedia format. I tried to list the prisoners according to their group and which affiliation they had but it did not work very well.

Please note the following: RNU does not have an armed wing but the 16 prisoners are under the welfare care of the RNU's prisoners' dept. Cogús. Those accused or convicted of actions claimed by CIRA are being looked after by RSF, while those similarly accused with respect to RIRA are being looked after by the IRPWA, prisoners' dept. of the 32CSM. The remaining prisoners have support groups which are not part of political parties or movements.

author by ...publication date Thu Jul 28, 2011 20:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

diarmuid how much of a mistake do u think the british are making in relation to the sad case of brendan lillis,a man deemed a threat to the state by ford,a man who has been bed ridden for over 600 days who now weighs only 5 stone. he has had is charges dropped so is now being interned indefinetly basically,are the british intent on letting him die? is this not a huge mistake on the part of the british? vol. john  bradys death in custody was something they were able to ignore quite easily,but the death of a former blankletman in maghaberry is a different matter whilst a dirty protest on the 30th ann of the hunger strikes goes on. if ever there was evidence for the dissillusioned youth that F all has changed this is it.


while sinn fein now might make calls for him release it is they who appointed david forde to as justice minister. they have a lot to answer for!

author by truthpublication date Sun Jul 31, 2011 09:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is now being reported on ir.net and elsewhere that it is only the RNU & RSF aligned prisoners who are on dirty protest and no others, so not only were the links in the comments not representative of the majority of the prisoners in total to begin with a but nore t even associated/supported with the prisoners who are actually on the protest. The two political groups (RNU and RSF) who these prisoners support and the two prisoners groups (Cogus and Cabhair) should be given.

author by ...publication date Sun Jul 31, 2011 12:01author address author phone Report this post to the editors

is ir.net to be takin as gospel? get real,if your so concerned about the cabhair link then why didnt you just put it up? eh? as far as im aware all prisoners are now on dirty protest not just OnH or continuity pows.

this is the only link to cabhair i could find.

http://www.rsfkerry.com/prisonerscabhair.htm

author by truthpublication date Sun Jul 31, 2011 12:14author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It's been confirmed by family/friends group (which is 32csm) that their prisoners are on a protest which consists of 'not shaving', while RNU & RSF aligned prisoners are the only prisoners involved in FULL ON dirty protest, despite it being let on otherwise previously by these 'friends/family'. let truth be heard and leta  certain group cease trying to use the prison protest as a party building block. political staus now!

author by ...publication date Sun Jul 31, 2011 23:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

who exactly is trying to use this issue as a 'party political buiding block'

where has it been confirmed that the family and friends group prisoners are involved in a protest involving 'not shaving'???? provide us with a link if you dont mind.

i think initially there was one section of pows involved in protest action and some not,im not concerned about this.

as a non aligned republican im concerned about all of the prisoners whether they're on protest or not,they deserve political status whether they're involved in protests or not.

if you want to try and score points against the 32csm thats your business,but you should try and get your facts right

http://republicanprisonersmaghaberry.com/republicanpris....aspx

http://republicanprisonersmaghaberry.com/statement.aspx

http://www.republicannetwork.ie/index.php?option=com_co...id=30

author by Redundant Republicanpublication date Sun Jul 31, 2011 23:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Have any protests been organised to support these republican prisoners?

author by fyi - nonepublication date Mon Aug 01, 2011 00:07author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Tomorrow marks a full month since RSF-aligned and RNU-aligned Prisoners' began a dirty-protest to secure the implementation of last August's Agreement.

author by Seán Flynnpublication date Mon Aug 01, 2011 15:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I found another link for Cabhair - see below.

Related Link: http://www.rsfcork.com/republicanprisoners.htm
author by ...publication date Mon Aug 01, 2011 15:55author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The continued imprisonment of Brendan Lillis is wrong on many grounds.And he needs to be released - now

D

author by phelim - ..publication date Mon Aug 08, 2011 04:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Tonight from 12 midnight, Republican prisoners in Maghaberry who are with RNU/Cogus and RSF/Cabhair  begun a 48 fast, the pows haven't taken the decision lightly as some of the pows are older and some have health problems, however they took the decision to fast as a way of highlighting the current situation they currently find themselves in in Maghaberry Prison. most of the above pows haven't had a legal or family visit since the 1st July 2011, no phones or a proper access to the mailing system. These prionsoners (RNU/RSF affliated) are also the ONLY ones who are engaging in the dirty protest

author by ...publication date Tue Aug 09, 2011 17:34author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Following the resumption of protest action at the start of May we explained in detail the reasons why we were forced into this action.  It has been clear to us from the signing of the 12th August agreement that a “claw back” policy was in place by the gaol admin/NIO. 

Since our protest resumed we have met with the assessment team, who David Ford put in place immediately after the signing of the agreement to monitor its implementation.  This group were to give reports to Ford at different periods on progress, or the lack of it from either party to the agreement.  Their first report was produced in October 2010, 2 months after the signing of the agreement and 7 months before the resumption of our protest.  This report dealt with issues that had arisen around the failures of the gaol admin/NIO to implement key areas of the agreement.  It went on to make 6 recommendations to resolve these areas but failed to act, as had the prison service in countless damning reports in the past.  These recommendations dealt with strip searching entering and leaving the prison and the area around controlled movement, both of these issues were dealt with in the August agreement.  We have stated both to the assessment team and gaol admin long before protest action resumed that the implementation of these recommendations would defuse tensions around the failure of the gaol admin/NIO to implement the original August agreement and deal with the core issues that originally brought about protest in 2010 which ended in the signing of the 12th August agreement.  Unfortunately Ford, the gaol admin/NIO failed to grasp the severity of the situation and failed to implement the August agreement in full or these recommendations.

During the 9 months from the August 2010 agreement was signed and the resumption of our protest, the POWs worked tirelessly to have these issues resolved, regularly debating and planning our road ahead.  Only when we were left with no alternative we resumed protest action.  We embarked on this stage of protest in the knowledge that a long battle lay ahead and our protest could last a lengthy period. 

The August agreement was supposed to be a foundation for all republican POWs to build on and bring about a wing conducive to our republican principles.  The failure to implement this agreement has made it impossible for this foundation to take hold.  When only one side to any agreement show the willingness required to make it work, it is doomed at a very early stage.  These failures lie at the feet of David Ford and the gaol admin/NIO.

We have reached stalemate. There is no agreement. There is nothing on the horizon to give us any confidence that Ford or the Brits are willing to deal with the issues, on the contrary Ford would rather use the media to give a fixed position rather than face up to the loyalist P.O.A and bigoted gaol admin.  All this together proves that our original thoughts that this protest is now set to be a very lengthy battle. 

We will not entertain anything short of our original demands which brought about the failed August agreement.   We therefore call on family and comrades at home and abroad to show support, for what is only the beginning of a long hard battle ahead and we thank you for all your support.

Victory to the POWs. 

Signed:

Colin Duffy, Sean McConville, Damien McLaughlin, Brian Cavlan, John Paul Wootton,

Harry Fitzsimons, Joe Barr, Mark McGuigan, Kevin Barry Nolan, Brian Sheridan,

Dominic Dynes, Gavin Coyle, Brendan McConville, Gerard McManus.

author by ... - ...publication date Wed Aug 10, 2011 06:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It was great to see the turn out yesterday afternoon for both demos (GPO & NI Tourist office) about the protesting prisoners in Maghaberry and Brendan Lillis, as for the stament above from the F & F group*, it is very cynical, as well as very misleading , for these kind of statements when they refuse to  join the RNU & RSF prisoners who are actually on the protest!  Enough with the not shaving when  everyone else in Roe is on a no wash! Small victory though, yesterday as Brendan was released, finally, to hospital.

*Is there some logical reason is always first on these missives, when he isn't first alphabetically? Or is it that his family who run the F &F group just feel he is the most important? There is currently a man, Brendan Lillis dying, an ill pensioner Martin Corry interned without any charges, Marion Price is the only female PoW and Liam Campbell facing extradition but this campaign feeels that a man who is facing the same circumstances as every other 'regular' PoW (regardless of political alignment) should some how be the focus?? Enough of the personality cult.

author by ...publication date Wed Aug 10, 2011 11:22author email shamresearch at yahoo dot co dot nzauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

This is a little off-topic, but I'm a New Zealand socialist and researcher who's been looking at the politics of some of the so-called 'dissident' Republicans, and in particularly at those of Ruairi O'Bradaigh. I think that there are many ideas which those of us who live far from Ireland can take from O'Bradaigh and from the Republican tradition:

http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com/2011/08/outside-mach....html

Best wishes for the campaign at Maghaberry.

Related Link: http://readingthemaps.blogspot.com
author by ...publication date Fri Aug 19, 2011 09:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Brendan Lillis has been released justly on health and humanitarian grounds, 

Brendan’s issue drew growing and wider solidarity  - and such wider support and unity was important

Good that he is released 

As Always on such matters

In Solidarity D

Signing off

Related Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-14579705
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