TDs lobby NI Minister on dissident treatment in Maghaberry Prison

Strip-search complaint: Politicians urge Claire Sugden to implement 2010 agreements

Aerial view of Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim. File photograph: Google Street View

Aerial view of Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim. File photograph: Google Street View

 

A group of TDs has urged Northern Ireland’s Minister for Justice Claire Sugden to to improve conditions for dissident republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim.

Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív and Independents Maureen O’Sullivan and Thomas Pringle met Ms Sugden at Stormont on Monday to press the case on behalf of more than 20 dissident prisoners held in Maghaberry.

Agreements were made in 2010 but they had not been implemented, complained Mr Ó Cuív, who said the dissidents are still being strip-searched and subject to stringent curbs on association.

Strip-searches take place before and after prisoners leave jail, but they are also strip-searched when they appear before a court through a video-link in the prison, even though they never leave its grounds.

“This is very degrading. You have to ask yourself why is it taking place when there are nowadays technical alternatives in terms of equipment?” the Fianna Fáil TD asked.

Rejecting charges the searches are needed to stop drugs getting in, Mr Ó Cuív said “everybody recognises” that “the republican prisoners do not have any dealings with drugs within the prison”.

Prisoners are also being denied education in Irish and other expressions of cultural identity, he said. “All we are asking is that the 2010 agreement would be implemented,” he added.

The International Red Cross has become involved in the issue, but while they have had co-operation from the prisoners “they could not resolve them with the prison authorities”.

Lowering tensions

Saying they had “ got a good hearing” from the newly appointed Minister, the Galway West TD said lowering tensions in Maghaberry would have “ a big effect on attitudes in the wider nationalist community”.

Dublin Central TD Maureen O’Sullivan said the difference in atmosphere between the dissident wings in Portlaoise and Maghaberry was palpable, because Portlaoise has a “completely different relationship between staff and prisoners”.

Regime change has been promised at Maghaberry, but the prisoners there believe “it is all process but no progress”, she said.

“At the end of day prison has to be about rehabilitation.”

Insisting the group of TDs rejects the dissidents’ aims, she said they had made it clear that “we don’t want any truck with the use of force or the use of violence to deal with their aims”.