the PSNI and troops out" call
Monday morning as firemen tackled two blazes, one
in the laundry of Maghaberry and another at one of
the houses, or blocks, a prisoner elsewhere, believed
to be a loyalist, was setting his cell furniture and
other contents alight. After September and the Steele
report, HMP Maghaberry, hopefully, would no longer
be described as a tinderbox. However, in spite of,
or because of the recent successful campaign that
led to the much-needed reforms flowing from that report,
we have now witnessed the first red (or orange) flames
and heat of reactionary resentment.
could argue, with some justification, that many prisoners
and their families may well become the unwitting victims
of what are certainly vested interests, beyond their
control. No doubt they may yet come to view their
collective plight to be that of mere pawns or political
footballs in a game of high stakes. There is an on-going
tense industrial dispute among prison officers, who
since the days of the 'Iron Lady', cannot legally
withdraw their labour. Yet, there are ways of getting
around Maggie Thatcher's Criminal Justice Act, and
bringing the jails to a standstill. Such anticipated
fall-outs are undoubtedly linked to a violent UDA-inspired
campaign. This is literally threatening the lives,
limbs and liberties of prison staff and their loved
ones, which may in time, have dire consequences for
many others, both 'inside' and out.
flu and 'Provo spy'
5, 2003, reliable sources assert, had been earmarked
for a day of action by all prison staff. It now appears
that there was a hasty change of intention hours after
the Assembly election date was fixed for later this
month. It seems we have been spared witnessing all
the jails being paralysed by an outbreak of "blue
flu". If on another date this flu manifests itself,
it will ' mysteriously' afflict some 1,700 officers.
Its main symptom can conveniently avoid the illegality
of a work stoppage, and no doubt the fall in wages
associated with such, because of a claim that they
are ill, all on the same day. No doubt many prison
officers are really currently ill. But what many of
their colleagues formerly argued privately, that they
need to protest against the delays in protecting the
homes of around a third of their colleagues, is now
filtering into the public domain.
UDA, in the main, are suspected of being the culprits
behind the death-threats and actual attacks on selected
prison-related "targets". The figure of
"one third "of officers is not simply plucked
from thin air, but is based on the number of files,
allegedly downloaded by a "Provisional spy"
from the Prison Service's main computer system. Yet,
is there any overt threat from the Provos, as we are
constantly told by their political masters, and in
latter days its own "P.O'Neill", that they
remain committed to their cease-fire declaration?
war is over", Vincent Browne, Tuesday, November
04, 2003). No doubt it makes for good copy, when
the POA can link the (P) IRA and UDA et al, to their
current besieged plight.
must contain a covert aim of drawing British politicians
to their assistance, with a nod and a wink that will
more than hint that recent "ill-advised"
reforms are to blame. One could argue therefore that
a combination of seemingly diverse interests, on the
part of the Prison Officers Association (POA) and
hard-line loyalists, actually conspire to make the
situation even worst. Both elements, unconvincingly,
I contend, deny that there is any conspiracy afoot
within, or even possibly between, their respective
camps. Nevertheless, fact can be stranger than fiction,
certainly in this particular neck-of-the-woods.
stress and overtime
of the P OA are engaged in an overtime ban, which
one suspects will end well before Christmas. Nevertheless,
in Maghaberry alone it is estimated that each officer
is owed on average 500 hours leave under the current
management of staff agreement, others sources claim
that some are owed 3,000 hours leave. Such figures
have far-reaching financial implications. How these
are tackled may prove to be highly interesting, if
we are ever told. The POA claim, and no doubt there
is some justice in such, that because of stress, arising
from the UDA's campaign of terror, such has led to
short staffing, and many can't get time off. Some
within the service, and even some journalists point
to these factors as if to present a justification
for the "blue flu" strategy that jail bosses
this seems to let the UDA and its allies off the hook,
rather than expose the fact that the latter are out
to inflict as much pressure as possible so that the
joint prison managements will concede their demand
for Maze-style paramilitary structures and greater
control. Many can be forgiven for harbouring a belief
that this has more to do with the loyalists' Godfathers
drug-related criminality, than any real desire for
genuine politicals status. In fact, the question must
be asked, has loyalism, as manifested over several
years, got anything whatsoever to do with practical
politics or ' defending their communities' any more?
Their loyalty, to paraphrase an old saying, could
have more to do with the local half-crown in their
pockets, rather than a somewhat remote English Crown.
incidents must surely up the ante as concerns are
growing that prisoners and wardens could yet suffer
agonisingly painful deaths if major fires arise from
deliberately created ones in individual cells, or
in laundries, recreation or storage areas. The anticipated
"blue flu epidemic" may yet result in the
paramilitary PSNI, and even British troops being mobilised
to jointly run the prisons alongside their existing
respective managements. Such an outcome can but only
fan the flames.
such a situation republican prisoners, their families,
and visitors, who already feel vulnerable, will have
further cause for even graver concerns. The current
POA 'work to rule' has resulted in both poor staffing
cover and almost total lock-up for all prisoners.
It must be stressed that elite sections of the POA
and the UDA share at least one thing in common, they
resent with a burning passion the implementation of
the Steele reforms. On that one the media, in the
main, adopt the stance of those three, supposedly,
long-overdue reforms came about as a result of a republican
"dirty protest" and a vigorous campaign
by relatives, a few key political and clerical figures
who shunned any media glare, welfare groups, and others
concerned with human rights and civil liberties. Foremost
in their collective consciousness was a deep fear
that history would repeat itself; the dark years 1976
to 81 being uppermost in mind. The sufferings of ten
hunger-strike martyrs were never far from that humanitarian
mindset at several behind-the-scenes encounters, at
a pivotal international conference held in Derry on
February 22, or among the small numbers who took to
the streets against the then existing penal status
quo, particularly in Maghaberry.
will call the tune?
is only logical that the POA must accept that they
are mere employees of the British Crown, and that
they are considered well paid to implement any policy
that their Direct-Rulers deem necessary. By accepting
such a professional role they therefore have every
right to demand of their colonial masters that their
lives, families, and dwellings be protected, in return.
On the basis of such, their political opinions should
not influence their work , in particular, their day-to-day
treatment of visitors or diverse categories of prisoners,
political or otherwise.
the POA is out to provoke the British government into
any incremental watering-down of the Steele recommendations,
then the scientific fact that any action produces
a reaction will again be proven to those who may doubt
such. Many can but hope, but only a few handfuls can
guarantee, that such reactions will always be of a
peaceful variety. The POA's actions and those of the
UDA could yet make the serious situation even worse.
Any reversals on Steele will undoubtedly be viewed
by many, not merely traditional republicans, as major
betrayals, and highly intolerable. All agencies and
individuals that were engaged, overtly or covertly
in breathing life into the Steele reforms, must now
acknowledge the fact that this situation must be confronted
and brought to a speedy conclusion. The real question
now is, how?
introduction of armed units of the PSNI and British
troops into HMP Maghaberry, or any prison, is most
certainly not the answer, and must be resisted at
all costs. The antipathy against these forces is not
confined to so-called 'dissidents', which is a matter
all, a Blair-led Labour government must face up to
the diverse political agendas involved. It should
not allow either the POA or blatantly bigoted paramilitaries
dictate the pace of Steele's reforms. In any dispute,
or suspected conspiracy, the British government must
stand firm in its support of basic human rights. The
welfare of all prisoners and their families should
never again be sacrificed on an altar of political
should all know where that path led from '76-'81.
Genuine republicans and nationalists, on both sides
of the border, and especially the Dublin government,
cannot afford to be foolishly apathetic or complacent.
It is clear that people must mobilise, yet again,
so as to protect and build upon what gains that have
been won in recent months. Peaceful and constructive
campaigning, for which there was neither wages, awards
nor public backslapping, is the only sensible and
positive approach. Nothing more is urgently required,
and nothing less will do. We should learn from history,
if we are to ensure that it cannot repeat itself.
writings include "Ulster's
White Negroes - from Civil Rights to Insurrection"
(AK Press, 1994). He chaired the Feb. 22nd international
conference referred to above. That resulted in a great
deal of controversy, particularly in the local media,
arising from the line taken by one tabloid, Sunday
World. The conference, which was attended by print
and TV media, had been organised by civil rights veterans,
not any "dissident" grouping, as alleged.
The CR vets can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Their forum appears on www.ia-pl.org
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