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Republican prisoners conduct ‘dirty protest’

August 3, 2010


By Brónagh Murphy

Conditions in the Republican wing of Maghaberry jail have deteriorated considerably with the inmates of Roe House now conducting a so-called ‘dirty protest’, The Examiner has learned.

Around thirty prisoners protesting about the prison regime and conditions are involved.

In a statement, the NI Prison Service said the protest had involved prisoners “fouling areas of their living accommodation” by pouring urine onto the landings.  Staff working in that area of the prison have been issued with protective clothing.

Cullyhanna man, Turlough McAllister, is an inmate of Roe House.

His father, Jim, told The Examiner that he disagreed with the term ‘dirty protest’ being used, instead referring to it as a ‘no-shave, no haircut’ protest.

“People have different ideas of a dirty protest.  None of the prisoners are shaving or cutting their hair, so they have long beards and long hair.  They all have access to shower facilities so to the best of my knowledge they are all washing, so in that respect it is not a dirty protest as such,” he said.

Mr McAllister says the toilet facilities in some cells were broken some time ago and have not been replaced.  This may have led to the use of the term ‘dirty protest’ he says.

The prisoners’ protest centres on prison policies of controlled movement and strip-searching being implemented in Roe House.  They claim the same regime is not replicated in other parts of the prison and, as republicans, they are being unfairly treated.

Turloch McAllister has lost five out of his last eight scheduled visits by refusing to be strip-searched.  His father says he had been informed by the prison authorities that routine strip-searching had been suspended on Wednesday of last week, pending the outcome of ongoing talks.  However it was promptly re-introduced on Thursday, a move which “does not bode well for a settlement”, he said.  He was refused a visit to Turloch on Saturday.

As punishment for refusing strip searches, TVs and access to the tuck shop have been removed from the prisoners for a period of 21 days, leading to further resentment and escalating tensions between staff and inmates.

“These are tough punishments on men locked up for up to 23 hours a day,” McAllister said.

“I still think with a bit of goodwill this could be solved easily.  The prisoners are not asking a lot.  What they are asking for is available to prisoners in the rest of the prison.”

Recommendations

Northern Ireland’s Prisoner Ombudsman investigated complaints from two republican prisoners earlier this year.

The report, which included 16 improvement recommendations, was published in June,

The NI Prison Service accepted all of the recommendations and said they have been or are in the process of being implemented.

The service said it was “disappointing that the protest was continuing” as it had been their belief that implementing the Ombudsman’s recommendations would provide the basis for an end to the protest.


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