Maghaberry and its Violence

Just minutes before I sat down to write, a text came through from a friend who has worked with ex-prisoners over the years. As I read her words her concern leaped across to me like a surge of electricity. The Maghaberry screws are at it again, beating and harassing republican prisoners.

These days few things from the political past annoy me. I have grown accustomed to the failures and the futility, the lies and the let downs. Life goes on, it always finds a way. Prison related matters are different. They grip me like few other things. I witnessed so much violence by the screws in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, on occasion being subject to it, that when I learn of it taking place again anger leeches through me.

My friend told me via her text that ‘the situation Maghaberry is increasingly dire at the minute.’ She went on to tell me about the beatings that had been handed out. A day or two ago my wife had alerted me to the harassment that one republican prisoner is undergoing. Harry Fitzsimmons, serving eight years for a Provisional IRA operation which the Provisional IRA denied and whose key leader dismissed as a ‘bar room brawl’, to save himself embarrassment, was apparently forcibly removed from his cell and thrown into an isolation unit. We decided to drop him a card which was written out yesterday and due to be posted tomorrow. It probably won’t get through – same old routine as the blanket men put up with during their incarceration.

Today Mairtin Og Meehan of the Republican Network for Unity circulated a press statement which the Pensive Quill will carry tomorrow. Himself a former republican prisoner, Meehan to his credit, like his late father, hasn’t got it in him to turn his back on those who find themselves on the wrong side of the walls. He confirmed that Harry Fitz had sustained injuries as a result of screw brutality.

The measure of the peace process as an initiative to advance a republican agenda can be found in what is happening in Maghaberry Prison today. It is found to be wanting. How are republican prisoners still being brutalised and deprived by the British Northern Ireland Prison Service? The peace process is clearly not protecting them. And Harry Fitz was not some dissident out to destroy the peace process but a Provisional IRA volunteer sent out by advocates of the peace process to assault and kidnap an opponent of the peace process.

Having just spoken with the father of South Armagh republican prisoner, Turloch McAllister, it was confirmed that Turloch was beaten by a number of screws. He is now in a cell. His furniture is a wet mattress and his clothing is a T-shirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms. The screws have removed everything else. There is no toilet facility as the water had been turned off and Turloch McAllister has to use a bucket to relieve himself. Echoes of the blanket protest.

Jim McAllister, Turloch’s father, has expressed his concern at the regime his son and other republican prisoners are forced to undergo. In his view, very little is required in order to remedy the situation. That nothing is being done leads Jim McAllister to believe that some sinister agenda on the part of prison management is holding back progress.

Harry Fitzsimmons and Turloch McAllister are the names of republican political prisoners we are hearing about today. Their names could just as easily be Kieran Nugent or Raymond McCartney; men who faced the same vindictive regime and all the brutality it could muster in a different time but for the same reason.

These men cannot be allowed to be swallowed up in the jaws of the Maghaberry machine where their plight is smothered by public indifference and a regime of silence. We, former republican prisoners, who experienced the British jailers and know their callous penchant for bullying and brutality, can hardly sit indifferent to what is going on behind the walls. We were supposed to have sorted these matters out once and for all. If we don’t stop it then the value of our efforts so many years ago is called into question.

There is one way to protect the integrity of our own prison struggle. That is by extending the benefits it produced to the prisoners who followed in our footsteps. Maghaberry’s brutal screws must be stopped in their tracks. Nothing less will do.


  1. I'm reading Wilbert Rideau's memoir of imprisonment in notorious Angola, Louisiana for 44 years. He points out how even those who agitated for prison reform focused only on the abolition of the death penalty rather than reforming conditions. For instance, the nun whose story became "Dead Man Walking" worked at that prison but her efforts were one-tracked, however admirable. It seems that easing hardship, let alone ameliorating it with improvement of prisoners, gets less backing than ever.

    Over here, since '90 or so rehabilitation is rarely supported even by liberals. My own experiences with Californian prisoners attest to the collapse of public support or funding in the U.S. for rehab. The prison industry demands long terms, high profits, and repeat offenders. Maghaberry and its counterpart facilities with their decades-long persistent abuse shows sobering comparisons and contrasts-- I'd be interested in how the perks for politicians and contractors there exacerbate the problems you tell.

  2. If prisoners are legitimate targets for screws, then screws must be legitimate targets for republicans.

  3. The name Magheberry (apart from when it held female republican prisoners) always got a tired sigh from people in the Provisional republican movement. It is seen as the home of former 'compromising' republican prisoners, and current 'dissident' republican prisoners. Not 'real' republicans. As a supposed 'compromising' republican prisoner of the past, I remember being held down face in the ground, hands held behind my back, by a team of about 8 screws, while one of them tried to deliberately break my fingers... something that they could later deny by saying it happened in the melee.

    Still, Mackers, there was a context for that particular bit of violence on me. Inexcusable in my view, but still there was a context. It was calculated brutality, not just brutality for brutality's sake.

    I'd be the first person to support prisoners in distress... but I'll just be honest and say that I'd need to know more about the context of what is happening, rather than an appeal to the emotions on their own...

  4. Seán Mór,

    if the attack on you was inexcusabe then context is merely alibi of the worst possible sort. Context is never fixed; it is always positional. There are always competing contexts rather than just one, yours or mine, or whoever eles's.

    Full access to all information on any situation is always helpful. It allows for more informed choices to be made. But not having it should not serve as a means to make no choices if the action we wish to make a choice in relation to is deemed inexcusable to begin with.

    Whatever the context in Maghaberry, screws beating prisoners is always wrong. No ifs, buts, maybes - wrong is wrong is wrong.

  5. Well said Anthony,a bully is always a bully untill stopped.apart from the odd little comment I find the silence from those in psf deafining, is it because,to speak out would annoy their new bed buddies in the dup,its going to be interesting to hear what Joe Austin and this new (I,m sure well funded )prisoners group have to say re the treatment of one of their own, not that they should single individuals for special treatment, rather its about time thats those who have had experience of harsh and inhuman degrading treatment by screws who after all are not acting freelance here but I,d say a deliberate policy, those who have the ear of the movers and shakers should be pointing out that such tactics did not work in the past and will not work now, the brutality is more likely to inflame an already bad situation,or is that excatly what these people want,I,d advise Gerry and Martin to stop fiddling and look at the fire that may get totaly out of control it,ll burn them as well

  6. There needs to be a broad public campaign in my view to improve conditions for prisoners in Maghaberry. It is in the area of rights, dignity and private space that improvements need made. Since its establishment Maghaberry Prison has aimed to be the antithesis of the conditions in Long Kesh, it has been run on the basis of total domination of the prisoner, no space, in your face, all-day every day. This leads to eternal conflict, and the prisoner usually comes off the worst when he or she makes a stand....

    I make no apology for asking for more information re the context of this current bout of apparent brutality... I too have a gut reaction of support for prisoners, but we still need to know what is going on, rather than just appealing to our emotions...

  7. Seán Mór

    No you don’t have to apologise for asking for more information. Nor do you have to outline why no apology is necessary since none was requested from you. But you might wish to explain for the benefit of your readers where the appeal to emotions has been made. Screws beating prisoners is wrong – we all seem to agree on that. It seems to have happened. It is either factual or emotive manufacturing. Where it is factual no further contextualisation is required for opposition to it to be mounted and legitimised. More information is a somewhat separate issue from contextualisation. Even where the facts may be embellished with the emotive the fact that a prisoner was beaten is a stand alone issue. Can any further information alter the context and lessen the wrong doing incurred in beating prisoners? I don’t think so.

  8. May I be 'divils advocate' a moment. Don't think anyone would suggest violence towards a prisoner could be condoned. To me that's not the issue. The problem is generating support for prisoners rights. Most people seem to be of a mind that 'dissidents' somewhat unimaginatively want to drag us all back to war and that prison protest and 'emotion' is the tried and tested vehicle. No-one seems to want to buy into that all over again.
    If it's a case of conditions and human rights then fine, but lending oneself to the dissident campaign is anathema to the majority. The association with prisoners welfare to supporting their objectives is the problem they need to address.
    Just throwing that in the people remember the pain and social trauma of past prison protests.

  9. Larry ya divil ye is it a case of we won the war and if you dont bend the knee we,ll break your legs.I said earlier that these screws are or seem to be cranking this situation up, now the question I,m asking is on who,s orders,the treatment of pow,s in Irish history is an emotive issue and justified by the brutatity meted out to them,if it was a case of dissidents trying to create a situation to gain sympathy on the outside then any gain would only be short term,if conditions in Maghaberry are as we are led to believe and I for one accept the word of Mairtin og then we should be trying to do all we can to make sure we dont have a rerun of the 80,s, no matter who it is that is trying to bring us back there

  10. Fionnchú

    a very thoughtful comment. I think the issue here is more political than a question of perks. In the case of SF I suppose it could be argued that they have been silenced by the perks. I think it is much more fundamental than that.

  11. About an hour before I read Martin OG's post. I had been flicking through a small book which belonged to my da. It is a small book which contains pieces of writing by some of the men in the Crumlin Gaol during the 40's.
    Most of those who wrote in the book had been sentenced for treason. (Perceived as traitors)
    The majority of these prisoners received 7 year sentences for this charge.
    Some got 7 years plus the Cat o Nine Tails. ( A harsh whipping instrument)
    I remember my da telling me about how brutal the regime was in the Crumlin for republicans. It was also harsh in England, my uncle was allowed to die in Parkhurst.
    The brutality of these regimes relied on the fact, that most republicans were ostracised by the public, just as they are now.
    People thought the 40's campaign was pointless. Two decades before, people had been spitting on the captured men and women of 1916.
    It has always amazed me the way they fought to carry the coffin of Tom Williams (similar to the way they fought over the "Darks") when he was re-interned.
    Yet, my granny and my mother were amongst the few people who made the sad journey to the Crumlin gaol that morning, determined to say the rosary even thought they were faced with a barrage of orange abuse.
    It is almost unreal to think that sixty years after this book was composed, prisoners are still being brutalised, and with the exception of their families and some close republican friends no-one really cares.

  12. Larry,

    the argument you put forward about raising support is fine but bear in mind Harry Fitz is not a dissident trying to drag people back to the bad old days. He is not serving time for anti-peace process activity but for peace process activity. He is serving time for a Provisional IRA activity. He is being beaten because he is asserting the right of prisoners to better conditions. The bottom line here is that screws cannot be permitted to beat prisoners. Prisoners are being beaten. Offer context, mitigation, qualification, walk a mile in the other man's shoes argument - we are pulled back to the inviolable position which is screws cannot be allowed to beat prisoners.

  13. Mackers I did state that prisoners should never be brutalised..I think..? My point was really just that the perception is out there that prisoners for political motives will use gaol protest to generate sympathy. People aren't unaware of this. That's all I was aluding to. That fact in turn and recent history may be part of the reason for present apathy.

  14. What has always galled me over the years is the fact that not one screw was ever charged with brutality or torture against POW's. Most escaped justice. I say most, because only a handful paid the ultimate price for their sadistic behavior towards naked and defenseless prisoners. I for one was always glad to hear when a screw had been shot, as I stated quite clearly in my memoir, On The Brinks. Last week I was doing a reading of one of my crime novels down in Dublin, when I was confronted by a very angry man complaining that my books glorified killing screws. He said I should be ashamed of myself, to which I replied: You were probably one of the many people who shamefully kept quiet when fellow Irishmen were being tortured by these vile creature. He stormed off in a threatening huff. I found out later he had been a screw at 'The Joy'.

  15. AM, on a recent thread (46 comments to date so I moved it over here from 'More Guns than Votes') you admitted: 'I can see no republican future. Republican activists should consider validating their republicanism through different projects. There are lots of improvements to be made in the lives of people, most of which a Brit free Ireland or a Brit run Ireland has little relevance to.'

    Given the discussion among Seán Mór, Larry and others so far, I wonder how a prisoner's rights campaign would (or would not) fare? I compare the fear of rousing up support for dissidents determined to bring back the bombs, with the immorality of brutality, of course, by bullies.

    I perceive a tension between not wishing to condone the militancy while not wanting to permit the abuse of those imprisoned for violence. The added context of Harry Fitz doing time for Provo 'peace process' activity's a complicating factor to be sure. And as Fionnuala notes, I wonder if there are advocates now arguing for reform?

  16. it seems that harry fitz was a bit of a screw himself,dishing out beatings,as a GFA enforcer,seems ironic.
    not sure i understand am,when you say,'harry fitz is not a dissident trying to drag us back to the bad old days',what exactly is a 'dissident' in the republican context,i mean,wasnt he involved in the suppresion of republicans by using typical counter-insurgency methods trying to enforce the GFA treaty?
    stop me if im wrong but that's not revolutionary or republican its counter revolutionary,and counter republican.

  17. Larry,

    your point was very clear that you do not condone prisoners being beaten and I did not mean to misrepresent it. I merely used your comment as a springboard to touch on the wider issues that have been raised elsewhere in relation to the discussion. I thought your comment raised the points that need to be considered

  18. I think it beggars belief that people find it acceptable for the screws to brutalise Harry Fitz.

    Whether people agree or disagree with what he was charged and subsequently sentenced for is completely irrelevant, it is the fact that a republican prisoner is being brutalized that should be uppermost in peoples' minds.

    The prisoners need support, not smug remarks and condemnation.
    Surely we get enough of that from our so called republican party in government!

    Two other question on a different subject, what is Larry's MA in ?

    What does lol mean?

  19. Nuala,

    I will answer the easy one! It means laugh out loud. You are lucky not having had your mind colonised by the internet nerds and their geeky language!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Thanks for that Mackers, I know I am going to sound as paranoid as Marty, but I have the bin up and I'm just wondering why!
    Sorry, that was not very clear the bin, beside my comment?
    Albert said it means rubbish!!!!

  21. Sorry, Mackers I know I'm being a melter. It is all down to Marty he started asking questions about bins and scaremongering about comments being deleted.
    Disregard the former question about the bin!
    Albert said it's a hint but I think it is optional good practice.

  22. Brendan,

    After years of ‘legitimately targeting’ people in ever widening circles only to end up where we are – those who decided the criteria for targeting people meeting all the criteria themselves - the only conclusion I can draw is that anything similar adds to the spiral downwards. I don’t believe there are any legitimate targets.

  23. internet nerds indeed! 'disguised' at ya mackers..Fionnuala, my degree is actually a BA bachelor of arts in Irish History and Politics..the MA [Masters] is awarded after a 4th year...consider it a freudian slip from a cocky wee...NERD lol quite chuffed 2 be put in the nerd on the up.

  24. Larry, didn't even know you posted it!! I see it so often. Lots of people use it and things like PMSL. I prefer the gold oul !!!!

  25. Nuala,

    A very moving post around the theme of the book you were reading that your da had left. The ‘micro group’ of the 40s produced people who were key to the Provisional IRA including its one time chief of staff, Joe Cahill. Now, they are to be criminalised by the SF logic of today. SF disagreeing with the armed strugglers of today is fine. It is the clamour to join with the DUP and the British state to confer criminality on them that leave the party exposed. But it can do little else, so trapped is it by the logic of the peace process.

  26. Mackers, they have criminalized an entire struggle.
    Liam Hannaway is still on hungerstrike, I heard from his brother today that the conditions in the prison are pretty dire.

    Apparently the new minister for policing and justice (another load of shit) said the prisoners are "playing up for attention"

    To be honest I thought it was only snakes that shed their whole skin.
    Not so, because they the (Mainstream Republicans) would sell their souls, to hold on to this little bit of nothing.

    I'm sure the republicans from the 40s would be horrified by this.
    My ma used to call them (Sinn Fein) the sell-out party, and considering she had her first prison visit at a few days old.
    The first of over sixty years of prison visits I think she would know.

  27. Sam,

    I confess that some of my most joyous days in jail were when they got hit.
    They were thoroughly evil. While I would never advocate it again I remember only too well the animosity that those people engendered in us. I remember going to a visit one day during the Blanket protest and the screw with me was decent. We got into a conversation and we talked about screws getting killed. He was amazed when I told him I agreed with it. It never turned him hostile. He just could not countenance that I could think his colleagues deserved it. I think the most evil people I have ever met were screws. Having said that some of the most decent people I ever met were also screws. I knew screws during the Blanket protest who would never have laid a hand on a prisoner. Myself and The Dark and the company we were in bought a group of them a round of drink one time we bumped into them in a pub in South Belfast. They offered first.

  28. Nuala,

    the bin just means you are able to delete your own comment if you choose

  29. Mackers, I thought the bin was there to help if you made a typing or spelling error which I do in nearly every post.

    Marty started the paranoia over the bin. Must be that continual fear he has of getting dumped

    In my case Mackers please reinstate the bin and then I can have a second go at a mistake free post.

    Albert does not believe he (Marty)is on holiday either, he says he has drunk the money for the internet bill again.

  30. Ewok,

    I would have imagined the comment was quite clear. Harry Fitz cannot be accused of being part of a ‘dissident’ agenda aimed at destabilising the peace process. He is doing time for serving the peace process.

    His involvement in the Tohill kidnap is a separate issue. There is no question of that being anything but wrong. And he has to make his own case on that. Many of us have made it clear where we stand on attacks like that. Few will disagree with you that it was anti-republican.

    That he is being beaten by screws is the issue here. He is not being defended for his involvement in the Provisional attack on Tohill but is being defended, rightly and robustly, against being attacked by screws. If Storey or Kelly or Wilson were in Maghaberry and were being beaten by screws do you think we would be sitting silent and saying ‘they got their comeuppance’? Not a chance.

  31. Fionnchú,

    I think the opposition to prison violence has fallen to republicans. They have always been to the fore in defending republican prisoners against abuse. Quite often in the past it has been tactical rather than rights driven.

    It seems to me essential that a rights driven campaign be given full wind. The abuse of rights by prison management is something that extends beyond the political prisoner community. Nor is it contained within the North. The prison system in the South is notorious for its abuse of rights.

    The difficulty facing a rights driven campaign is that it is probably not emotive enough to raise widespread public support. That is because there is widespread animosity towards some of those who would benefit from it such as rapists. As a Marxist once said to me the problem with human rights is that everybody has to have them!

    I think support for prisoners’ rights is unconditional. It cannot be held in check by fears that it might fuel the various IRAs out there. We heard all these arguments raised before against speaking out against RUC torture. The liberal classes went into some serious hand wringing over the support it might give republicanism if they were to speak out against the police.

  32. Nuala, is the bin back yet? I don’t know how these things operate! The best way not to get caught with the spelling is to write it out in Word first.

  33. This comment has been removed by the author.

  34. Mackers, so sorry about that!
    This will cause absolute hysteria now, with Marty thinking I have been shown the door, or told to blog off!

    Albert asked, "Is it the goal posts that is causing Marie all that anxiety?"

    Mackers, to answer your question yes the bins are reinstated and much appreciated.