Echos Of Prison Struggle

Today, the Pensive Quill carries an article by guest writer, Gerard Hodgins

The echo of prison struggles down through our history came to the fore again on Easter Sunday while we stood and remembered those who died, and were reminded that prisoners in Maghaberry Prison were under siege.

Republican prisoners took control of a canteen area in protest at a continuing campaign of harassment from the screws and continuing erosion of their living conditions and rights.

In the British prison system, rights are privileges, to be earned. That may sound innocent enough on paper but what it means is that if you are not some screw’s performing poodle you don’t “earn” any “privileges”: therefore your life in prison is going to be a bit harder. Some may think that overly-harsh and an unfair blot on those few individuals who join the prison service and don’t treat prisoners unfairly or harshly. And they would be right: there are decent screws.

I know some people will say: let them rot. I don’t. I understand the prison system from the inside; beyond the textbooks of university educated people who have never spent so much as a day in prison yet structure penal policy and oversee its daily administration for the political system.

For the first five years of my own prison life, rights were privileges, to be earned. We done what any republican would do, and what republicans are doing today in Maghaberry, told the British: no they are not!

Having come through such a history and still living with the consequences of it to this day, thirty years on, it is totally perplexing to me that those in positions of political power who built their powerbases on the backs of prisoners have allowed a situation to develop where the same old, deeply sectarian screws have a freehand in trying to criminalise republican prisoners. Agree or disagree with them, they remain republican prisoners; and we, as republicans, should never be instruments of maltreatment of any prisoner. If anybody truly understands the power and significance of prisoners being held under harsh conditions in our history it has to be us.

Sinn Fein are one half of our local government; they are in power, they run the show and either do, or influence, the hiring and firing. That’s part of political power; having a big influence upon how the show is run.

Maghaberry prison is not being run anywhere near standard. Maghaberry prison is not fit for purpose even under government standards. Psychiatric care is a screw in a white coat, treatment is solitary isolation. Maghaberry prison is every bit the cesspit the H-Blocks were - the H-Blocks were a series of concrete cells where men were isolated and told they were not political prisoners, Maghaberry is a series of concrete cells where men are being held in isolation and told they are not political prisoners.

The false pretenders to the legacy of Bobby Sands do him the utmost treachery by running a prison system which attempts to criminalise republicans today, as it tried with Bobby before them.


  1. It certainly will be interesting how SF respond to the recent protests considering they now have a big say in policing and justice.


  2. Gerald good piece thanks, if we were to accept the Sinners are sincere in the political direction they have taken, they should not be sitting stum whilst a single prisoner is being abused or denied their democratic rights, let alone men who are in jail for political offences.

    Yes, to para-phrase Mr Adams, hard choices and responsibility come with political office, the most important is saying enough, this must cease, its wrong. If the Sinners are unable to do even this, what purpose do they serve?

  3. Mackers-there are a number of perceptions that allow SF to persue constitutionalism while trying very hard to ignore the prisoners.
    The image of a modern clean jail in which well fed+exercised prisoners have a toilet in the cell and a remote control T.V. and control of the cell light etc the 'holiday camp' perception.
    Also there is the war fatigue and 'enough is enough' attitude of so many people. This is 21st century Europe not 1798 Ireland.
    Fially SF have an interest not in promoting the welfare of todays Republican prisoners but in ensuring they are forgotten so as not to embarrass and expose them further for what they are...UNIONISTS.
    Irish patriots I suggest would not be impressed...
    A final point, is there any sense in todays world seeking a Republic for fat self servers to end up running it??

  4. Larry,

    "A final point, is there any sense in todays world seeking a Republic for fat self servers to end up running it??"

    None what-so-ever.


  5. Rory-
    it's sad but true,in the end greed and people like Cowan rise to the top...they'r all turds. Mite be nice to see FF in the north if only to watch the unionist reaction. But they're all useless. Dail Ereann is a job for life and they still cant fix a country of 3.5 million. Akin to an average UK town/small city.
    In the Philippines Marco's is still respected as he built hospitals, roads and infrastructure and Aquino simply re-named places like Manila airport that Marcos built after herself and privatised the hospitals etc.
    After all the press coverage I was shocked at the respect there for Marcos. But politcs is mindnumbing.

  6. Yeah Larry,

    Not only is Dail Ereann a job for life, but it's something you need to be almost born into these days.

    It's ridiculous, jobs for the boys. Like you said why does a country the size of a typical UK city needs such a huge government structure.

    Cowen & Co don't know what a day's work is. Just born into privilege like aristocrats of old.

    Republic me arse.


  7. You guys are spot on about the political structures in the south, but look at the north, how many politicians is there with their snouts in the trough, MP's, MLA, MEP, local councillors, the majority drawing way above the average wage and it is these people who have the bloody cheek to look down their nose when some poor should get caught doing the double or god forbid, living with a loved one whilst drawing benefits.

    I have no problem with full time politicians if they look after their patch and the people in it, but one only has to look at the thief in chief and his wife to understand they have no understanding of what their true responsibilities should be.

  8. Listened to bit of Labour Prty Conference on RTE [vatican 1] today. They talkin about jailin bankers+ speculators who wrecked the economy. Load of aul gunk, they were the SILENT opposition the entire time. Best you could expect is a stream of committees of enquiry that do bogg all but make the tossers even richer pretending to be investigating...THEMSELVES. I get my M.A. Degree i'm outa here!!

  9. Interesting discussion of the Hunger Strike by participants, including Pat Sheehana on Radio 4 today, available as podcast at

  10. First I must say, I hope that you able to read my native english. And understand my thoughts on the recent situation.

    Let us start with the „Good Friday Agreement“ and the release of all republican prisoners. There was no programme for the POWs. They were told, the war is over, good bye..... where is the plan for the 32 Counties, why the armed struggle stopped?
    Nearly 200 Volunteers lost their life for a united Ireland, 10 men died for political status in the H-Blocks! 30 Years of fighting, with the political wing SF build up for the republican demands!
    And now these people in Power are unable to change the british system in their local government? Why you are in Power then? For what? A bit of make-up in the 6 Counties? Social Housing?
    Absolutely nothing changed in the republican areas, the Loyalists still waving their flags,
    Republicans still unable to walk through their areas... e.g.......

    Anything failed.... to help the Ex POWs into normal living, as there was absolutely no interest from the SF side, to do so!

    Many former POWs failed in their day to day living and normal work. They became victims of the situation, well created by british Intelligence and SF. Former POWs are stamped now as criminals for small crimes, arse l.... behind the new born Figures who running the show in Stormont are „good Republicans“ because of their huge money laundering , out of border business.

  11. We live in Europe, we have no borders, what is the problem? Most unsolved situations are because of lack communication.
    How can someone think, that a Republican able to accept the RUC? Or the new NI peelers?
    They are still receiving their monthly payments from UK, they are still part of the opression force, you shouldn t close your eyes on the recent circumstances, thats clearly a soft-act very complex worked out in Downing Street and such offices. Its the carrot and the stick system.
    People who are backing this created arrangement, are walking free, People who are not willing became Dissidents in their vocabularies.
    And aftermath its easy for the ruling class, to stamp them as criminals and using the Maghaberry Prison to control their minds.

    If you look at the whole picture, you get mad.
    And you shouldn t threat SF Leaders, thats infantil. You should rethink your own situation. The big picture shows, that there are no Changes in the North, it is basicallx a huge mistake to blame anythnig, especially the own failure on SF.
    I am not an enemy of SF, I just disagree with the socialist path. And I see no future of SF in a world of progress and social securities. At the moment they are even uable to produce a plan for the future.

    I hope you understood my view that you should not isolate the prison issue fronm other points. Its a circle for many people, where they need help to get out.

    PS. I can only forwad 4 500 letters.....

  12. Some former POWs started a wee business, with support from family members such as Barry A: who really helped several former PIRA lads. Anything failed within months, Vincent Mc A. And Martin Mc K. (I think it was Martin) even became Directors, but again failed within months.

    When Bilfinger Berger PLC received the contract for the Westlink Project, I was in a position to create 60 jobs over a three year period. I leave the frustration out here I had after endless talks with people in Belfast and Derry. Strange enough the real mainstream loyalist firm Graham took the part.

    You should see the problem with Maghaberry Prison as a failure of the political wing. If former POWs unable to live under realistic conditions in the republican community they do what they were trained for, they take what they want. This creates problems and they end up in prison again.
    Strange enouge the SF, who are now in the leading position in the local governmnet, not willing to establish a realistic future for the men, who did the fighting over 30 years, that the SF now walking around in Suits and packing their pockets with top payments from Downing Street as MPs and whatelse.... what is the position of an elected person in the local government? Its easy for them to give ORDER to the screws and peelers.... they are the people in power in the Ministerias.

    You shouldn t isolate the part with Maghaberry, its only another point on the agenda to fight for. You should go to the basics, the roots of the problem. No jobs, frustration, most are not in a position to create a own life, they need basic help.....
    Without a future you will always have Comrades who became criminals and ending up in prison. In this particular case I must also defend SF. If someone rape, doing robberies, stealing from the community, or backing some useless and criminal gangs, who have nothing in common with a resistance, they can not claim, that they are POWs or asking for any political status.
    Mainly its on the Republicans to start changing their life. No one can dragg them into a so called normal living.
    If the lads not willing to get up in the morning and work, then it is not a failure of SF.
    You can not blame anything toward SF: I also want to say, that Gerry Adams having a hard job, he walking the thin line, with realy heavy problems which are unsolved on his shoulder.

    I think you should create a round table where you can talk openly about the social problems, about the fear to slip back to 1969, where Republicans isolated in their local living areas, which are build to control the movements. And the people of the 6 Counties should bring the main task on the round table, a united Ireland. If the Loyalists not in a position, to accept this point, why SF are hanging around in Stormont then? How can some one sit beside a loaylist Politican, who works against this united Ireland?