Magaberry Protest Resolution, The IRSP’s Role




On Easter Sunday 2010 the Republican and Republican Socialist political prisoners, being held in Roe House, Maghaberry Gaol, barricaded themselves in the canteen in protest against the punitive regime in which they where forced to endure. The Republican wing at Roe House is made up of prisoners from different organisations including the INLA, CIRA, RIRA and other independent Republicans. It includes convicted and non-convicted political prisoners ranging in age from their early twenties to one prisoner in his sixties.

Over recent years the IRSP, 32CSM, RSF, Eirigi and RNU have been organising protests both individually and collectively on the outside to highlight the ongoing plight of the Republican prisoners in Roe House. When the prisoners barricaded themselves into the canteen on Easter Sunday it was quite clear that they had reached the end of their tether and that their protest was going to be intensified. The prisoners believed that an intensified campaign was necessary which would put the prisoners plight in the public domain and which would bring a focus to seeking a satisfactory resolution.

At the beginning of May 2010 following an IRSP white line picket on the Falls Rd the IRSP were approached by a former republican prisoner with a view to forming a prisoners support group in Belfast that would campaign on behalf of all the republican political prisoners. This led the IRSP, 32CSM, eirigi and RNU as well as a number of non-aligned republican political ex-prisoners, to hold a meeting in West Belfast. (RSF could not take part, as their constitution does not allow them to take part in broad front campaigns but who nevertheless organised their own pickets and protests.)

Out of this meeting a prisoners support group, ‘Families, Friends and Ex-prisoners’, was formed. It was immediately decided to hold a demonstration at Maghaberry prison to highlight the plight of the prisoners. Hundreds attended this demonstration which put added pressure on the establishment. Also a large, well attended, public meeting was also organised, in Conway Mill in support of the prisoners, by the support group. Further demonstrations at Maghaberry were also organised during this period-all of them being well attended which further added more pressure on the establishment as well as successfully highlighting the plight of the prisoners. Protests were also held at the Prison Ombudsman’s Office, Alliance Party Office in South Belfast. White line pickets were held on the Falls Rd, Andersonstown, Short Strand, Antrim Road, Carrickhill lower and Upper Springfield Road. A successful protest march was also held in Lurgan, County Armagh.

After the protest at the Ombudsman’s Office contact was made with the Families support group through Jim Auld (CRJ). He had been involved in the resolution of a hunger strike by Liam Hannaway in an unconnected protest in the isolation block in Maghaberry. Jim Auld related to the group that the prison service wished to seek a resolution to the protest. More in hope than expectation, the Families group requested that a delegation from the group be allowed into Maghaberry to speak to the protesting republican prisoners to ascertain exactly what would be required to bring a resolution to the protest. Jim Auld related this to the prison service who surprisingly granted the delegation visit for the 19th of June 2010.

The delegation arrived at Maghaberry at the arranged time and quite quickly it became clear that the prison service and/or the POA were not prepared to let this delegation visit take place. Whilst the Delegation got through as far as the visiting area there was an attempt to strip search one of the protesting prisoners on their way to meet the delegation. The prisoner rightfully refused and the rest of the prisoners were returned to Roe House. The families delegation was informed that the meeting would not now take place.

Jim Auld was then contacted and came and met the group. He reported that the cancellation of the delegation visit was a cock-up and assured the families group that the prison service were serious about seeking a resolution to the situation and that a further delegation visit would be permitted to visit the prisoners on Monday 21st of June. Though the Families group had its reservations it agreed to accept the visit with the proviso that no republican prisoner would be strip-searched. This delegation visit was unilaterally cancelled by the prison service on Saturday the 19th June-no reason was given. Following this fiasco the IRSP released the following statement;

IRSP condemn Prison service Jun 19, 2010, 6:08pm

The IRSP have reacted strongly to the decision taken by the Prison service to cancel a planned delegation visit by the families and friends of prisoners committee to the protesting Republican prisoners in Maghaberry.
IRSP representative Paul Little who was due to be on the delegation visit this Monday slammed the Prison Service decision as short sighted and small minded. This delegation visit to the protesting Republican prisoners had the potential to begin the process of achieving a fair and equitable resolution to the prisoner’s grievances. The fact that the first delegation visit was frustrated and thwarted by the POA and the second abruptly cancelled demonstrates that the Prison service is not serious about finding a resolution to the situation in Roe house. Maghaberry Prison is in a crisis, no number one governor and this week the head of the prison service resigns, this is a prison with no one in charge! The situation where republican prisoners are being targeted by bigoted Prison Officers cannot be allowed to continue, that in 2010 protesting Republican prisoners are reacting to this provocation by a dirty protest cannot be allowed to continue.
Statement ends

The families group then decided to dispense with the services of Jim Auld as a facilitator. Whilst it was accepted that though Jim Auld was acting in good faith it was quite clear that he was viewed by the prison service as expendable and that he did not enjoy the confidence of anyone involved.

The IRSP whilst supporting the families campaign reserved the right to explore and initiate other strategies that potentially would support the prisoners and assist them in finding a satisfactory resolution to their protest. It was evident to the IRSP that outside protests alone would not bring a satisfactory resolution to the deepening crisis in Maghaberry.

The IRSP had, from the outset of the protest, began lobbying political contacts which included a meeting with the NIO. We made it clear, as did the other participants from the prisoners support group, that the prisoners and the prisoners only would have the final say in any settlement. Our ex-prisoners group, Teach na Failte, also lobbied their contacts including meeting Sinn Fein whom we felt, given their senior position and responsibility in the Stormont Executive, had a role to play in seeking a resolution. At the same time, given the collapse of the ‘Auld Initiative’, the IRSP began to search for possible facilitators/mediators that we believed would be acceptable to the Prisoners.

After talks with trade union officials and Creggan Enterprises members of the IRSM leadership flew to Amsterdam to talk with the Dialogue Advisory Group who had already been lobbying their political contacts at the request of the IRSP. We explored the possibility of them becoming involved in the dispute as facilitators if this was acceptable to the prisoners. They agreed and along with Rath Mor Creggan Enterprises and the ICTU, a four person team of joint facilitators/mediators was put in place. An IRSP delegate met with two of the four Facilitators/ mediators in the Belfast Centre for the Unemployed and presented them with the following briefing document.

Irish Republican Socialist Party
Briefing Paper on current situation in Maghaberry

Currently, thirty+ Republican prisoners are being held at Roe House in Maghaberry Prison. Roe House is a separated wing housing only Republican Prisoners over two landings. Since Easter 2010 Republican prisoners have been on protest against the conditions in which they are being held, this protest has escalated to a limited dirty protest beginning a fortnight ago.

The protest by Republican prisoners arose following a deterioration of the conditions in which they are being held following industrial action by the P.O.A. which essentially was a ‘go slow’ action, the result of this action being a denial of republican prisoners basic human rights.
On Easter Sunday 2010 Republican prisoners barricaded themselves in the canteen of Roe house as a protest to highlight their plight. The prisoners were being punished for:

• Wearing Easter Lilies by a 23hr lock up, confined to their cells, which have been stripped of their personal belongings.

• The regime is only allowing one prisoner at a time get a shower thus insuring some prisoners do not have the opportunity to wash.

• Legal visits, family visits and association have been interfered with.

• Controlled Movement, (Three Prison Officers to move one prisoner or Five to move two prisoners), has to cease immediately.

• Prisoners have been assaulted and singled out for strip-searching.

• Prisoners are currently on a limited dirty protest

• Republican prisoners, their families and representatives have indicated a willingness to enter dialogue with the Prison Service to bring a resolution to the protest.

• The Prison Service and the P.O.A. so far have frustrated any dialogue, which could see a resolution of the crisis within Maghaberry.

• The Republican prisoners have two basic demands. 1- End to controlled movement/ Free Association, 2- End to strip-searches.

• It is imperative that prisoner’s human rights, which were compromised by the industrial action by the P.O.A., do not become the normal way of treating republican prisoners.

• To that end the I.R.S.P. caution the P.O.A., British government and indeed the Stormont regime against continuing down this road that can only result in continued confrontation.

Following this briefing a meeting was organised between the potential Facilitators/Mediators and the ‘Families, Friends and Ex-prisoners’ support group, The Families listened to and questioned the Joint Facilitation Group and agreed, to explore further the possibility of finding a negotiated resolution, subject to the agreement of the protesting prisoners. Key to their proposal was that there would be face-to-face negotiations between the protesting prisoners and the prison Service. To this end we requested another delegation visit to the republican prisoners in Maghaberry through the Joint Facilitation Group. The aim of this delegation was to inform the protesting prisoners of this possible initiative and to gauge whether they would support this as a possible resolution process. This was granted and after some discussion within the prison with the prisoners they agreed to give this initiative the go ahead.

There was not much movement in the first two weeks of July due to the 12th holidays. It was difficult for the Joint Facilitation Group to pull together the people necessary to find a resolution due to holidays etc. However, the JFG spent time lobbying various groups and interested bodies to use their influence to support a negotiated dialogue that could bring a lasting resolution in Maghaberry. Some of this lobbying included;


Friday 16 July 2010

Notified Northern Ireland Office Prison Service (Colin McConnell) that prisoners seeking a facilitated meeting between Prison Administration and themselves to seek resolution to the issues that gave raise to the current protest in Roe House.

Meeting with Mark Durkan to discuss how best to secure the need for independent chair and observers for any face-to-face discussion between the prisoners and the prison regime.

Notified Department of Foreign Affairs (Dublin) on the need for the use of independent facilitators to be engaged to resolve the current impasse at Roe House.

Meeting with International Committee of the Red Cross (Geoff Loane) on thee issues of concern. Geoff Loane who is the Head of Mission based in London agreed to raise the issue with David Ford, Department of Justice and the NIO.

Discussed the prisoners’ concerns that their human rights were being violated with Monica McWilliams who indicated that the Human Rights Commission have alerted the prison authorities of their concerns and requested a visit to the prison.

Monday 19 July 2010

Informed by both Alan Craig and Colin McConnell that the Prison Service were keen securing “a win-win” for the prisoners and the prison service but required clarity on who was speaking for whom. Both raised concerns that confusing messages could undermine any potential for a resolution.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Meeting with representatives of the Pat Finucane Centre (Maggie O’Conner and Paul O’Conner) re: feedback with their meeting with David Ford yesterday. PFC reps said they were informed that if NIPS can’t resolve this matter internally it would consider moving to some form of mediation and was aware of need to act on the issues quickly.

Requested by CAJ (Mike Ritchie) for update on current position and how could they further assist the process towards a resolution based on the rights of the prisoners being protected.

Discussed current position with Richard Good, Special Advisor to David Ford who indicated he would encourage a local resolution involving the prison service and the prisoners with support from an independent chair and observers in the event of any face-to-face dialogue.

Held meeting with Jim Roddy and Seamus Heaney and welcomed their support to help resolve matters in Roe House and would be grateful for any endorsement of our approach to resolve in Roe House (to the Justice Minister, the Prison Service or – most importantly – the prisoners and their representatives).

*(During this time the 32CSM in Derry moved their weekly picket in support of the prisoners from the Bogside to Bishop St. in Derry city centre. This caused concern within the Business community in Derry especially with the annual Apprentice Boys of Derry commemoration of the Siege of Derry which was due to be held on Saturday 14th of August. This meant that if the Republican prisoners were still protesting on this date that both Republicans and Loyalists would be demonstrating in Derry city centre at the same time on the same day. Jim Roddy and Seamus Heaney contacted the 32CSM in Derry to see what it would take to resolve the protest. They both met the prisoners and the Families group and agreed to support and lobby for the ongoing initiative.)

The ‘JFG’ over the course of almost a month literally spent days behind bars with both the prisoners and the establishment facilitating and chairing joint meetings between both as well as separate meetings inside Maghaberry with both of the delegation parties. The JFG also had a series of meetings with other parties/individuals over that period including a number with Ford’s office. After long, protracted, negotiations, which at one point seemed on the verge of collapse the JFG successfully brought the talks to the following conclusion/agreement:

Date Created – Thursday 12 August 10 @ 19:08
Maghaberry, 12 August 2010

A. Agreement Reached on Dispute at Roe House in Maghaberry Prison Following a protest by Republican prisoners in Roe House, the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) and the prisoners agreed to engage in a facilitation process. A Joint Facilitation Group (Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Creggan Enterprises and Dialogue Advisory Group) met both parties on a number of occasions over the past several weeks. The discussions were underpinned at all times by the following principles:

B. Fundamental Principles
1. Arrangements are predicated on mutual respect;
2. Prisoner and staff safety must not be put at risk;
3. Arrangements should comply with human rights and equality requirements;
4. Revised arrangements and procedures should be achievable and sustainable;
5. Staff should be able to carry out their work professionally, free from harm, intimidation or threat;
6. The security of the establishment should not be diluted; and
7. The arrangements must strengthen public confidence in NIPS.

C. Prisoner Forum An effective Prisoners’ Forum will be established, in addition to existing processes for complaints and requests. This should provide a meaningful mechanism to address issues of mutual concern and is designed to build trust. D. Full body searching
1. No random full body searching will take place on the way to domestic and legal visits and the videolink or from the SSU.
2. No “rubdown” searching internally, within Roe 3 and 4.
3. NIPS will introduce a new search facility and revised search policy for separated prisoners. The new facility will be located within the Bush and Roe complex and subject to CCTV and audio coverage. It will incorporate a combination of the latest technologies, which will remove the requirement for routine full-body searching of separated prisoners within the prison. The search process for all separated prisoners entering the separated complex will be:
• outer clothing, metal objects, belts and shoes removed and passed through scanner;
• all prisoners undergo scanning by hand held metal detector;
• all prisoners undergo thorough rub-down search; and
• prisoners required to sit on BOSS chair (where outer clothing contains metal, prisoners may be required to remove this).

4. NIPS reserves the right, in exceptional cases, to require any prisoner to undergo a full-body search – under existing arrangements – if:
• there is a positive indication by the technology and the cause cannot be identified; or
• there is reason through intelligence or suspicion that a prisoner may be concealing prohibited items on their person.

5. In such cases the full-body search must be authorised and observed by a supervisor and carried out in a manner, which is both sensitive and dignified. The process of searching will be audited and monitored to ensure it complies with human rights standards.

E. Movement / association 1. The Prisoner Ombudsman’s report of June 11 2010 recommended that a review of the separated regime should be included in the current independent Prison Review and that the review team should examine the evidence considered by the CJINI/HMCIP when it concluded in 2006 and 2009 that the arrangements for the movement of separated prisoners “were unnecessarily restrictive”. (The HMCIP finding states that “there was severely restricted prisoner movement… this was particularly noticeable on the separated units where, even within the unit itself, the system of controlled movement meant that only three prisoners were allowed out an any one time, with no less than five staff present”). NIPS have fully accepted the Prisoner Ombudsman’s recommendation.
2. Subject to the fundamental principles set out at section B above, NIPS’s aim is to move from the existing arrangements towards a more progressive, supervised free-flow movement system within Roe House, on a phased basis, as follows: Phase 1 – commencing August 2010 NIPS will take steps to implement as quickly as possible from the date of this agreement:
• Association within the recreation room, yard and – when it is completed – the astro-turf pitch from 0830 until fifteen minutes before lock-up; and
• Considering the wing – for the purposes of movement –as one unit, rather than two landings. This will permit a maximum of 6 prisoners on the landing at any one time, while other prisoners will have access to kitchen, laundry room, classrooms, showers, ironing and haircutting room.
Phase 2 – commencing December 2010 The independent Prison Review Team is expected to report on the Maghaberry regime by December 2010 and, in the light of paragraph E1 above, it is expected that their report will include recommendations on less restrictive movement arrangements within Roe House. In addition to implementing the recommendations of the Prisoner Ombudsman’s report and this agreement, NIPS will take steps to implement agreed recommendations from the independent Review as quickly as possible.
Phase 3 Beyond Phase 2 NIPS will continue to review and assess ways to further progress supervised free flow movement of prisoners. This will include implementing agreed recommendations – if any – contained in the final independent Prison Review Report of early 2011.
3. NIPS’s ability to progress, implement and maintain phased changes to movement procedures towards a lasting solution will be determined by adherence to the fundamental principles set out in section B above. Throughout this entire phased process independent assessments will be conducted by NIPS, JFG and the Minister’s representatives.

F. Next Steps
1. The protest in Roe House will cease immediately;
2. The prisoners commit to refrain from intimidating, threatening, or harming prison staff in carrying out their duties.
3. Continuous monitoring and evidencing of this agreement commences.
4. NIPS will begin infrastructural change linking the exercise yard with the astro-turf pitch.
5. NIPS will commence work to design and build an enhanced search facility for separated prisoners, in line with the proposals at section D.
6. An initial prisoners’ forum will be convened to address areas of mutual concern and to resolve grievances through dialogue within this Forum.
7. The “Separated Compact” will be revised to reflect changes from this agreement and the Prisoner Ombudsman’s report and also, in due course, to reflect changes arising from the recommendations in the independent Prison Review’s report.
8. Review of “full body searching” will report by end of September 2010 and agreed recommendations implemented as soon as possible.
9. Independent Prison Review’s report on the Maghaberry regime by December 2010.
10. Full compliance of all parties with this agreement is imperative to building confidence and achieving a lasting solution – one that delivers a safe, secure and humane prison regime.

The Republican Prisoners in Roe House called of their protest on Friday 13th August 2010.

The IRSP issued the following statement;

IRSP WELCOME MAGHABERRY PROTEST RESOLUTION The Irish Republican Socialist Party welcome the resolution of the current protest by the republican political prisoners in Roe House, Maghaberry Gaol. IRSP Press officer Paul Little said that the prisoner’s demands had been conceded and that there would be a phasing out of controlled movement and that random strip-searching has been abolished. At this time we would pay tribute to the republican prisoners who have been steadfast in their determination to see that they achieve their basic human rights, we also pay tribute to the families friends and ex prisoners support group who have campaigned ceaselessly since the protest began at Easter. Finally, the IRSP commend the facilitators/mediators for their sterling efforts in bringing about this resolution. Statement ends.

The role of the IRSP in assisting the resolution of Maghaberry Protest
It would perhaps be unfair to point out any particular individual/party/group, as being key to the resolution as many across a wide spectrum contributed greatly, which, as a whole, was the key factor in this unprecedented achievement. It was a great team effort by all
The IRSP did play a crucial role in the resolution of the protest, which was done very much under the radar. Many others contributed greatly too but the IRSP believe that if there had have been no intervention by the ‘Joint Facilitation Group’ then the protest would still be on-going with no end in sight. In our opinion, the success was down to the delegation of prisoners (who represented all shades of republicanism in Maghaberry)who, from all accounts, conducted themselves in a “professional, determined, disciplined, confident and very articulate” manner and also down to the hard work, determination, negotiating skills and political contacts of the JFG.

The process, which resulted in this resolution, was undoubtedly unprecedented in the context of prison struggle. Never before in the history of prison struggle/protests was there direct face-to-face negotiations between political prisoners and the establishment with an outside 3rd party known as ‘The Joint Facilitation Group.’ A 3rd party of the prisoner’s and the ‘Family and Friends Committee’s’ choosing facilitating and chairing the talks. The establishment delegation who had negotiated with the prisoners during this period made it clear that they were unhappy with the presence of the JFG.

Furthermore, the JFG are now recognised by both the prisoners and establishment as being the custodians of the agreement that was accepted by all and who will be regularly monitoring the agreement. What was also clear, long before the agreement was concluded, was the fact that the establishment conceded, by the very nature of the process itself, that these prisoners were indeed political prisoners.