Governor's resignation and inquiry demanded

 

DEMANDS have been made for the immediate resignation of the governor of the Maze prison, and for a full scale public inquiry into the massive break out attempt.

The tunnel discovered on Sunday night was the most serious threat to the jail's security since the 1983 break out by 38 IRA inmates, also from H block 7.

The block houses 95 republican inmates. They were yesterday moved to other accommodation in the jail and all today's visits to the Maze have been cancelled.

Neither the North's security minister, Sir John Wheeler, nor the chief executive of the prison service, Mr Alan Shannon, was yesterday available for comment. The Northern Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, said that the escape attempt was an "extremely serious matter which was fortunately foiled by the alertness of a patrol."

The Northern Ireland Office said that a "full and thorough" investigation was already underway. But the DUP said that this was inadequate.

The party's leader, the Rev Ian Paisley, said that security at the jail was at an all time low and that IRA commanders, not prison officers, were in control. The deputy leader, Mr Peter Robinson, demanded the resignation of the governor.

Dr Paisley said that a prison officer could easily have been killed if the break out had gone ahead. The escape attempt was evidence that the IRA was not interested in peace and was indeed preparing to escalate its campaign, he added.

The DUP called for a security review at the North's other two prisons, Magilligan and Maghaberry.

The Ulster Unionist leader, Mr David Trimble, said that a public inquiry was unnecessary and that the thwarted break out was "not a resigning issue".

The UUP security spokesman, Mr Ken Maginnis, said he believed that the IRA had been forced to attempt another escape because it needed to get the prisoners out to continue its campaign of violence. He called for heavy sentences for those who had dug the tunnel and drawn up the plan.

The Alliance Party chairman, Mr Steve McBride, called for a public inquiry and said that security at the jail should be high on the agenda of the next British government.

The Prison Officers Association also demanded a full scale public inquiry. Its chairman, Mr Finlay Spratt, accused the NIO of attempting to "cover up" how the Maze was run. He said that the prisoners had "free rein".

A Sinn Fein negotiator, Mr Gerry Kelly, said it was the duty of IRA inmates, who regarded themselves as prisoners of war, to attempt to escape. He said that any break out would have boosted nationalist morale.

Mr Kelly said that the present situation could have been avoided if there had been "real negotiations" during the IRA ceasefire, and if the prisoners issue had been tackled. "In my opinion, it would have been much better to have a strategy for releasing prisoners than to have prisoners trying to escape," he said.

The SDLP condemned his comments.

Ulster Democratic Party representatives met UDA prisoners in the H Blocks yesterday to discuss the situation. The party's prison spokesman, Mr John White said the inmates had voiced concern that all prisoners would be collectively punished by the authorities.

Mr White said it would be wrong if loyalists suffered because of the action of republicans. Loyalists remained committed to the peace process and extra security measures should be introduced only on a very selective basis, he said.

The Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political wing of the INLA, said that a worsening of conditions for republican prisoners could lead to confrontation in the jail.