NI Secretary of State, Justice Minister ’escalating dissident activity’ - Dáil claim
Threats to prisoner officers from ’enemies of the peace process’ must stop - Tánaiste
British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and Minister for Justice David Ford have been accused of “escalating dissident activity” in the North because of lack of action on prisoner issues.
Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan said that after an Oireachtas group’s visit to Northern prisoners last week they emerged “feeling extremely alarmed and disturbed by what we had heard from both republican and loyalist prisoners on continuing issues that were not being addressed”.
She accused the Northern Ireland authorities of failing to talk to prisoners. “I do not know the motivation of the Secretary of State and the Minister but they are escalating dissident activity in the North. Nobody wants to see this happen, but nobody is trying to engage with them to find a solution . . .”
Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore, who meets Ms Villiers today said, however, that while he was very happy to pursue matters relating to prison conditions and humanitarian issues, “we must also factor in the threats that have been made to prison officers”, from enemies of the peace process.
He said: “Since 2009, dissident groups have been responsible for the deaths of two British army personnel, two PSNI officers and a member of the Northern Ireland Prison Service in November 2012.
“Threats continue to be made to these officers and this must stop.”
During Dáil foreign affairs question time, Ms O’Sullivan said “a dirty protest ended almost four years ago at the end of which agreements were reached”. She said, however, the issues remained unaddressed despite the Oireachtas group’s meetings with Mr Ford. They also met Ms Villiers and officers from Northern Ireland.
The Dublin Central TD said she was concerned that “matters will get worse unless the long-standing prisoner issues on which agreement was reached at the end of the dirty protest are addressed”.
She said prisoners with political affiliations were in a punishment block which operated on a 23-hour lock-down basis.
She asked Mr Gilmore if he would raise the matter in his meeting today with Ms Villiers. The Tánaiste told her, “I will not meet the Minister tomorrow. I will meet the Secretary of State.” He said Mr Ford agreed a reformed justice and prison system had a major part to play in ensuring a more positive future for Northern Ireland.