PRISON PROTEST BEGINS

Monday 19th June

On Monday 19th June Republican POW’s began a protest action in Maghaberry, this is the first in a series of protests planned by Republican POW’s in the gaol. POW’s are making clear that they will not accept the sub standard conditions on the segregated wing, they will not be criminalised nor will they be intimidated or coerced by the petty restrictions being imposed by prison screws to make the day to day life in the gaol for POW’s more difficult.

Political Status has been denied to Republican POW’s since the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and as a result conditions both for POW’s and their families and visitors have worsened considerably. The Republican Prisoners Action Group (RPAG) was formed to highlight the conditions faced by POW’s and we have met with the Human Rights Commission who accepted that our concerns were justified. Monsignor Faul, at our request also visited the gaol and spoke with the OC, he issued a report strongly criticising the regime and the conditions in which POW’s are forced to exist. The British Inspectorate for Prisons issued a Report in October 2005 that was also critical of a number of practices within the Segregated Regime in Maghaberry and yet the Prison Service have done nothing to adequately address these concerns.

The RPAG contributed a submission to the consultation process for the Separated Regime Review conducted by the Prison Service. In their ‘Summary of Responses to Consultation of the Review of the Separated Regime’ the Prison Service clearly indicated that they had identified the sources of concern of those who had contributed, however they failed to address any of these issues in a productive way. The main issues of contention of those who contributed were:

1. Searching
2. The passive drugs dog
3. The daily regime
4. Controlled movement.

In relation to searching prisoners it was reported that the number of rub down searches would be reduced, however the report also referred to plans to build a facility for ‘private searches’ ie. Strip searches that will be sited within access of the circle areas in Bush and Roe Houses (the Segregated wings).

The use of the passive drugs dog is not to be changed in any way that will benefit prisoners or facilitate the maintaining of regular family visits. Minor changes have been made that do not alter the present system in any recognisable way and the issue of prison staff abusing their control of the dog to prevent visits to POW’s in the segregated wing and to put POW’s in punishment cells on their return from Leave have not been addressed at all.
Instead of altering what is a sub-standard daily regime that requires POW’s to choose between exercise and education and enforces 18hour and 22hour lock-up on alternate days the prison service have plans to implement a Two-Tier regime. This is entirely unacceptable to Republican POW’s who are not seeking to earn privileges from the Northern Ireland Prison Service but are demanding their rights as Political Prisoners.

The review indicates that Controlled movement will not be changed and insists that it is necessary, the RPAG strongly refute this assertion. Controlled movement is excessively restrictive and prevents any free association between POW’s.

The POW’s are not prepared to accept these conditions and feel that the RPAG have exhausted all avenues on their behalf to no avail. The RPAG call on the public to give their support to the POW’s at this time. The Hunger Strikers sacrificed themselves to improve conditions for those POW’s who came after them and to ensure that Political Status was available to POW’s as of RIGHT. No one can be justified in signing away the Rights of others, however that is what happened in the Good Friday Agreement, and POW’s are now in a position where they must begin the fight for Political Status again.

Republican POW’s have formulated five demands and call for these to be addressed immediately.

1. FREE ASSOCIATION

2. FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT

3. RIGHT TO FULL TIME EDUCATION

4. SEPARATE VISITING FACILITY

5. RIGHT TO ORGANISE OUR OWN LANDINGS

The British Government, the Prison Service, the media and local politicians have all been well aware of these issues for some time and have done nothing to address them. The POW’s have been left with no choice but to engage in protest within the gaol and this protest will no doubt intensify if these issues are not addressed and their demands are not dealt with.

The POW’s are relying on the Irish people to stand with them in their fight to improve conditions and ultimately to win back Political Status. The Irish people have never failed POW’s in the past and we have faith that they will not fail them now.



REPUBLICAN PRISONERS ACTION GROUP