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Special Report Maghaberry prison crisis

Concern over disease outbreak

By Gráinne Brinkley

POLITICAL representatives and human rights groups have called on the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Justice Minister David Ford to implement the full terms of the 2010 Roe House agreement.

A spokesperson for British Irish Rights Watch, which recently successfully lobbied for the transfer of desperately ill West Belfast man Brendan Lillis from Maghaberry to the City Hosptial, said they have  “concerns regarding the escalating dirty protest” at the prison.

“We have visited HMP Maghaberry and have spoken to a number of prisoners at Roe House about freedom of association, lockdown, access to legal representation and other matters,” said the spokesperson. “We have observed a number of legal challenges brought by prisoners concerning the regime and we are concerned about possible disease spreading at Roe House, specifically hepatitis.  We have made representation to the ECPT [European Convention for the Prevention of Torture] in Strasbourg and the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] in Geneva.”

West Belfast Sinn Féin MLA Jennifer McCann – herself a former political prisoner – who’s a  member of the Assembly’s Justice Committee, visited Maghaberry in December with the committee’s Vice Chair, Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney.

“Prisoners were still being strip-searched and locked up in their cells and it was very clear that there had been no movement on the part of the prison administration to implement the recommendations set out in the agreement reached in August 2010,” said Ms McCann. “We met with representatives of the prison administration immediately afterwards and we once again expressed our concern about the conditions within the jail and the fact that the agreement had still not been implemented.  The following day we met with the Prison Ombudsman’s office and requested a meeting with David Ford on the issue.  We are very clearly saying that strip-searches are degrading and humiliating and there are other methods of searching that can be, and indeed are already, used within the prison;  therefore there is absolutely no reason to strip-search prisoners.  During question time in the Assembly that week we called again on David Ford to intervene to resolve the issue by ensuring the agreement is put in place now.”

Responding to calls by the Family and Friends of the Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry for  “some sort of meaningful political action” from Sinn Féin, Ms McCann said her party has been “proactive” on the issue.

“We have consistently called on David Ford and the prison administration to implement the agreement and to ensure that the prisoners are treated with dignity and respect,” she said.

“We also raised the issue of the ongoing detention of the two life-sentenced prisoners, Marian Price and Martin Corry, who had their licences revoked, and called for both of them to be released immediately.  We hope to have an early meeting with David Ford to raise all these issues again.”


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