Assaults on Northern Ireland prison officers ‘commonplace’

The former officer said recruits to the prison service could not be paid highly enough
The former officer said recruits to the prison service could not be paid highly enough

Almost 300 assaults on prison officers have been reported in Northern Ireland’s jails in the past three years, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has revealed.

Around two thirds of the attacks occurred at the high security Maghaberry prison which houses dissident republicans.

The DoJ figures were revealed in a written answer to TUV leader Jim Allister.

They have been made public as a pathologist prepares to carry out a second post mortem on prison officer Adrian Ismay who died on Tuesday - 11 days after a dissident republican bomb exploded under his van in east Belfast.

Solicitors representing Christopher Alphonsos Robinson from Aspen Park in Twinbrook - who appeared in court yesterday charged with the murder - have also asked for a review of the medical care given to Adrian Ismay between him suffering serious leg injuries and having a fatal heart attack.

The 52-year-old father of three died when a blood clot triggered cardiac failure.

Mr Allister said: “In an answer today (Friday) to an Assembly Question from me DoJ has confirmed that in the past three years there have been 299 assaults on prison officers in our prisons, with 181 in Maghaberry and an alarming 100 in Hydebank Wood. We’ve all seen the price paid outside the prison with the savage murder of officer Ismay, but, clearly, within the prisons assaults are common place.

“All of which speaks to the aggressive environment in which our brave prison officers are called to serve. Too often society takes for granted the courage and service of the prison service.”

The North Antrim MLA added: “I’ve yet to find out how many of these assaults resulted in the perpetrators being made amenable, but anecdotal evidence would suggest not enough.”

First Minister Arlene Foster said she was “sickened” to hear that republican inmates had taunted prison officers and celebrated Mr Ismay’s murder.

“Northern Ireland has come a long way in recent years. We can’t allow a small group of dissident republicans to drag Northern Ireland backwards,” she said.

“I was sickened by reports of celebrations in the prison when news of Adrian Ismay’s death filtered through.

“I know Northern Ireland has divisions but no one with an ounce of humanity would have any truck with the barbarians who cheered at news of Adrian’s death.”

Mrs Foster added: “I plead with dads, mums, sons and daughters who read this article and know anything about people involved in terrorism to bring that information to the police. We need to see those involved in this terror removed from our streets. We can’t go back. We can only stop this evil by unitedly standing against it.”

Robinson was remanded back into custody and will appear in court again on April 1.

• Trade unionists have called on people to attend a public vigil at Belfast City Hall on Tuesday to demonstrate their opposition to the murder.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions said the silent vigil would also be an opportunity to show solidarity with Mr Ismay’s family and other prison officers.

The vigil will take place at 1pm.