Author Topic: Prison Protests for segregation  (Read 72 times)

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Prison Protests for segregation
« on: August 19, 2003, 06:55:44 AM »
wats everyones opinions on this??

This article appeared first in the August 18, 2003 edition of the Irish News.

An old prison battle... and fears
Bimpe Fatogun

With republican prisoners entering the fifth week of a dirty protest in Maghaberry determined to continue until segregration is won and prison authorities and staff equally insistent they will not return to the days of the H-blocks, Bimpe Fatogun investigates if there is any possible solution.

The spectre of the republican hunger strikes looms over the sullen grey buildings that make up Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim, as inmates enter their fifth week of protest. On Wednesday July 2, a hardcore group of inmates aligned to dissident republican groups embarked upon a campaign of protest which has provoked unease among those familiar with prison history in Northern Ireland.

Sixteen prisoners, ranging in age from their mid twenties to early thirties, continue to mount their ‘dirty protest’ – smearing their own excrement on the walls of their cells.

Their demand for segregation from loyalist inmates, which has prompted a review of security by the Northern Ireland Office, began in earnest following an influx of high profile UDA men to the jail. The fallout from the bitter loyalist feud earlier this year saw former C-company ‘commander’ Johnny Adair returned to prison, to be followed shortly afterwards by rivals William ‘Mo’ Courtney and brothers Andre and Ihab Shoukri.

It was a rumour – the origin of which remains a mystery – that a republican had been asked to share a cell with Courtney which sparked an outcry culminating in vandalism of cells and the start of the dirty protest.
Their representatives claim that the protesters’ morale remains high and they are determined to continue their protest until they achieve their ultimate goal of segregation from loyalists. But the fear exists that the dirty protest represents the first step on a road which led to the deaths of Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee and Michael Devine in 1981.

As prison authorities insist there will be no going back to the days of segregation and the infamous H-blocks of the Maze, the prisoners insist they will not back down until they achieve an end to what they term “forced integration”.

Marion Price, of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association, said they are focused on their objective.
“The protest is continuing. The men are still on dirty protest and will continue with that until they get what they are looking for and achieve segregation. They are very determined and morale is very good,” she said.
Ms Price, who was herself force fed in an English prison along with her sister Dolours after embarking on a hunger strike following their imprisonment for a London bombing in 1973, said the return of political status for republican inmates was non-negotiable.
“With safety and political status, one follows from the other. The main thing, at the minute, the men want is segregation from loyalists. I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” she said.
“Republicans are political prisoners. No matter what way the system tries to change, that’s not going to change. That’s just a fact of life. The sooner they wake up to that the better.”

However, both prison authorities and officers warn that any change in the current system would endanger both inmates and staff.
Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Northern Ireland Prison Officers Association, said wardens would oppose any return to segregation.
“The Maze was a segregated system and it was very volatile for prison staff. There was no control of prisoners, prisoners had control of us,” he said.
“The government gave in and we were piggy in the middle... that’s what this is all about – to try to get back to those days to implement old republican and loyalist houses in the Maze... Segregated areas were no-go areas for person officers.”

On this issue the unions are in complete agreement with their employers.
A senior prison source told the Irish News that integration was non-negotiable and was here to stay.
“Segregation is no more, no less than power and control. Power and control for them to actually determine who comes into their area, for them to manage their own affairs,” the source said.
“Once the Maze closed that was the end of segregation. We are supposed to be trying to get into a more normal society. That means staff in control of the situation.
“In the Maze, staff couldn’t walk down wings without seeking permission of people in charge of that wing. Murders, beatings, bombs, people thrown out of windows, escapes, kangaroo courts. That’s the reality of segregation... Everyone in prison, including staff, become victims of segregation. This isn’t the way forward if Northern Ireland wants to move ahead.
“People keep saying we should learn the lessons of the Maze and that’s exactly what we have done. Maghaberry and Magilligan has been open for nearly 20 years and has been run as an integrated prison for nearly 20 years.
“We have never had problems or incidents on anything like the scale the Maze has. Segregation is inherently unsafe. Prisons now are about dealing with people as individuals.”

But as far as Raymond McCartney, who took part in the 1980 hunger strike at the Maze, is concerned forced integration is an unworkable system.
“I was doing some work for an ex-prisoners group as far back as 18 months/two years ago and with the increase in the number of people going into Maghaberry, it became clear that a policy of forced integration was never going to work and has just had no prospect of working in future. It comes down to the sheer volume of prisoners,” he said.

He added that he sees parallels between today’s protest and the 1976-81 action.
“I think obviously there are always parallels, whether or not they are direct... It is different but if people feel that their lives are in jeopardy no-one is in a position to predict what they will do,” Mr McCartney said.
“It is best to listen to what the prisoners are saying. Despite people trying to approach a sort of process of dialogue, it seems to have stepped up when they took that direct action and it all of a sudden became very much the topic on the news.
“The whole experience of 1981 is something no-one would ever want to see repeated, emotionally and every other way, but nobody can ever predict the future.”

Professor Kieran McEvoy, who works in Queen’s University of Belfast’s Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, sees at the centre of the campaign for segregation a battle for power within the jail.
“It is a complex issue, with both positive and negative associations for both prisoners and prison managers. It changes the power, the relationship shifts power from managers,” he said.
“If you have a group of 50 prisoners and you can treat them as 50 individuals, you have power over them. However, suddenly an organised group can, with a command structure, shift that power.
“It is too simplistic to say segregation is always a bad thing. In order to get things done staff need the co-operation of the prisoners and dealing with an organised collective can sometimes help to achieve that.”
Prof McEvoy added that segregation does not inevitably lead to more violence within prisons.
“Certainly on the question of the safety of prisoners, most people charged or convicted prefer to be segregated, feel more safe, less vulnerable to attack,” he said.
“Often they are engaged in acts of violence for a particular motive. If that objective is achieved, prison staff are likely to be safer. You do not generally get wanton acts of violence. You get violence directed towards a particular objective.”
Prof McEvoy believes that, despite some practical arguments in favour of segregation, prison authorities see it psychologically as a bridge too far – creating an “ideological battleground” within the jail.
“Prison staff and managers saw a complete shift in the natural order of prison and are loathe to let that happen again, loathe to allow such a dramatic shift in power balance,” he explained.
“However, the danger that history would teach is that to start to use prisons as a battleground for broader political issues can be very destabilising.
“The segregation issue goes to the heart of whether people are regarded as politically motivated or not.”
He believes only time will tell whether the prisoners will take the final step and embark on a hunger strike.
“A lot will depend on the determination of prisoners involved. If dealing with determined prisoners willing to go on dirty protests it could progress to include hunger strikes,” he said.
“A pragmatic approach to resolving this issue is the right way forward...The strategy of struggle is not a wanton act, one that in the past has been very self-defeating. The reason hunger strikes happened was that dirty protests were seen to have failed.”

Marion Price maintains that hunger strikes “always remain a possibility”.
“I have absolutely no doubt that these men are very determined and have the calibre to carry this through to the end. That’s a dangerous thing to get to that stage, the ante is upped very much for everything... It doesn’t become restricted to actual prison,” she said.
“There’s great determination on behalf of these young men to take it the full way... I don’t want to see that happening but I know the calibre of people we are dealing with. They know exactly why they are in prison and are well capable of seeing this through. It is not on a whim. They sat for a long time and thought it out and planned what they were going to do.”
Ms Price believes the authorities will eventually give in to prisoner demands.
“They don’t have an option, there is no other way out of this,” she said.
“I hope that they would see sense... With a bit of goodwill this can be sorted out very easily.”
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