Maghaberry prison must never be allowed to adopt the old Maze-style regime with more control exercised by inmates, the chair of Stormont’s justice committee has said.
Paul Givan was commenting after a Sinn Fein delegation, including Raymond McCartney, met with dissident republican prisoners at Maghaberry’s Roe House to ensure they are being “treated with dignity and respect”.
The DUP MLA said that although the visit was “no surprise”, such engagements “gives credibility” to the dissidents’ cause.
“They have had numerous meetings with dissidents as have — from my perspective even more alarming — politicians from the Republic of Ireland, including Eamon O Cuiv.
“The message that the dissidents in Maghaberry need to be hearing repeatedly from all political parties is that there will be no return to the Maze H-blocks where prisoners had unfettered control and free movement within their blocks.
“That can’t be allowed to happen in Maghaberry.”
Mr Givan added: “David Ford has already gone too far in the arrangements which are preferential to the separated section within Maghaberry.”
“There already is a threat against prison officers, so to hand a section of the prison completely over to dissident republicans would be unjust, undeserving and dangerous.”
Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Tom Elliott said: “If prisoners have concerns or issues then obviously people need to hear them, but there is an inspectorate and also a prisoner ombudsman who can take on the issues.
“But I have no difficulty [with the visit] because as far as I’m concerned a terrorist is a terrorist whether they’re a dissident or former IRA.
“I don’t see a big gulf between them.”
In a statement released following Tuesday’s visit, Sinn Fein said the party was seeking a meeting with Mr Ford, and added: “We raised our concerns over controlled movement, visits and how these have a negative impact on a regime which should be based on dignity and respect.”
A statement was also released on behalf of the republican inmates of Maghaberry’s Roe 4.
In a scathing attack on Sinn Fein, it said the party’s role was now “akin to the Board of Visitors” - and a “pathetic and sorry reflection of just how far these people have gone in propping up both the prison regime and the unionist statelet we once resisted together”.
It went on to say: “Prisoners will resist all attempts to criminalise us whether through controlled movement, strip-searching or isolation.”