|Imprisoned in Maghaberry|
Although you are aware of the core issues of conflict surrounding Republican Prisoners in Maghaberry there are also a host of other issues affecting the every-day lives of those held in Republican Roe House which are less well known. Many of those issues were raised with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during their recent visits to the Republican wing over the course of two weeks in June.
In regard to education, Republican Prisoners have access to one art class and one guitar class per week. All other classes, including Irish, creative writing, ICT, English, hair-cutting and craft have been removed. Open University studies have been impeded at every opportunity. The OU facilitator was, at first, prevented from accessing Roe 4 by security who claimed, ludicrously, that there was a threat against him. He has since retired and has not been replaced; furthermore, Republican Prisoners have been prevented from accessing online course material and phone tutorials.
Even at the time of writing I have been trying for three months to attain a prospectus. Republican Prisoners who wish to undertake informal education have been impeded by restrictions with only the three men undertaking OU degrees being permitted to use them. Previously the jail had ignored an Ombudsman recommendation to put the printer into the Roe 4 classroom and had instead kept in the SO’s office. The printer has now been totally removed from the wing as an arbitrary measure and a days notice is required for printing. We have also been denied access to the library and we have to purchase, or have family and friends purchase, our own books. Even requests for one-off presentations such as a “listener” course by The Samaritans or a drug awareness and treatment course by AD:EPT, both of which are already in the jail, have been denied. We now only have education which we have organised ourselves.
Cultural identity issues have also been noted by outside bodies. Over the past number of months there has been what can only be described as a campaign of cultural oppression waged against Republican Prisoners by the ‘Senior Management Team’ and the ‘Security Department’. In March Irish language signs were ripped from the walls and guards began demanding that traditional music be turned off. Thereafter, CDs and DVDs such as ‘101 songs of Irish Rebellion’ and ‘H3’ were banned and we were informed that these were now on a list of banned items. Similarly a t-shirt featuring the lyrics of The Lonely Banna Strand was banned as it “commemorated a terrorist incident” and photographs of a ‘Joint Enterprise Not Guilty By Association’ (JENGbA) march were banned and deemed to be ‘Republican Propaganda’ only to be allowed in when solicitors became involved. During Easter week the jail administration demanded that a tri colour erected in commemoration of the executed leaders be taken down. The riot squad raided cells on three separate evenings to confiscate the National Flag and charged a Republican Prisoner for ‘ disturbing good order and discipline’ by erecting the flag.
The arrangements for family relations have also been criticised, although criticisms and recommendations have been ignored. Families have to book visits via the phone; queues lasting over an hour are a regular occurrence, callers are often hung up on, visits are booked for the wrong date or not at all and visitors are promised call-backs which they never receive. Although the jail makes grandiose claims regarding family-relations policies, there is never an opportunity for families and loved ones to have privacy. Privacy is the cornerstone required for any comfortable exchange, yet the visiting area in Maghaberry offers no privacy between the visiting booths, it is lined with cameras and is staffed by 3-4 guards. Families often travel for hours only to greeted with ignorance and hostility, with many commenting on how the arrangements here are much worse than they ever were in the H-Blocks. This is further exposed as ludicrous when compared to Portlaoise where no prior booking is required, visits are held in privacy and prisoners may have two, two-hour visits per day every day. Attempts were actually made in 2014 to further downgrade visiting conditions under the guise of refurbishment.
The quality of food has been a long-running issue. A number of bodies visiting the Republican Wing have been dismayed by what Maghaberry’s administration is calling meals. In October last year the Jail stopped serving two hot meals and instead began serving one hot meal in the evening and a lunch in the afternoon consisting of a sandwich, a packet of crisps, biscuits and a piece of fruit. The quality of meals had never been satisfactory; however, the afternoon meal quickly deteriorated to the shocking quality in which it is presented today. It is now served in a smaller quantity with no biscuits and certain meals such as the cold sausage rolls, the chicken bap and the vegetable bap have been almost inedible leaving a number of prisoners physically sick. Despite complaints and letters from solicitors the meals have still not improved. Simple suggestions, such as, to send ingredients separate and prevent some fillings from spoiling other food have been rejected as that arrangement would be “too much like it was done in the H-Blocks.”
Each of the aforementioned matters could be elaborated on further and there are also countless other issues which could be highlighted, however, these matters sufficiently highlight the conditions in the “Worst jail in Europe”
Is mise le meas,