The family of prison officer Adrian Ismay are said to be “bearing up as best they can” as the PSNI announced they are treating his death as murder.
The 52-year-old died on Tuesday, 11 days after a republican bomb detonated under his van in Belfast.
Last night a prominent dissident claimed his murder was linked to conditions in Maghaberry prison, and “could’ve been prevented”.
Pressed on whether the bombing was morally wrong, Londonderry councillor Gary Donnelly said it was “regrettable”.
Meanwhile, the head of the Prison Officers’ Association contrasted the conduct of his members with dissident republicans who “talk about their human rights being violated”, but believe murder is acceptable – and suggested such inmates should not be held in the prison system at all. Following Mr Ismay’s death on Tuesday (after he had been released from hospital and was believed to be recovering), a post-mortem examination was carried out to determine if his death could be linked to the bomb which injured him in east Belfast on March 4.
The PSNI said yesterday afternoon: “Following the death of Adrian Ismay and subsequent post-mortem examination, detectives from Serious Crime Branch have today launched a murder investigation.
“The post-mortem concluded that Mr Ismay died as a direct result of the injuries sustained during the explosion...
“We are also liaising with the Public Prosecution Service in relation to the individual who is currently charged with attempted murder and causing an explosion with intent to endanger life.”
Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association in Northern Ireland, said he visited the 52-year-old’s wife and three daughters yesterday.
He understands Mr Ismay suffered a heart attack and that he was taken to hospital, but that he could not be saved.
It is understood his funeral is to be held at Woodstock Methodist Church in east Belfast, although its minister said that no firm details have yet been arrived at.
Mr Spratt told the News Letter that Mr Ismay’s relatives are “devastated”.
He added: “The family is bearing up the best they can. As you can appreciate, it’s been a difficult time for them.”
The Ismays themselves did not wish to speak directly.
Mr Spratt – a long-serving prison officer, whose organisation represents about 1,350 staff – said: “I often wonder: Should we really be working with these people [dissidents]?
“Should they be in our prison system?”
Pressed on what he meant, he said he was not suggesting executing them.
He was asked where he feels such prisoners should therefore be put; such as a military-run jail, for instance.
He stressed that a decision on where they should go was not his to make.
He said: “That’s not up to me to suggest. But they’re not complying with the prison system. They don’t want to operate like any other prisoners do.
“They are secured. They are segregated. But should they really be in the prison system – should prison officers really be working with these people? They call themselves ‘prisoners of war’ – should they really be in the prison system?”
He noted that some of the entry level prison officers who look after such prisoners are getting salaries of about £18,000 for effectively risking their lives.
He added: “It’s up to the powers-that-be to say where they should go. But we as prison officers didn’t join the prison service to be murdered.”
Gary Donnelly, a member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, was elected as an independent republican councillor for Londonderry in 2014.
He was asked whether Mr Ismay’s death may have any bearing on the upcoming republican commemorations of the 1916 Rising in the city (since the police had linked recent dissident attacks to the upcoming anniversary). He said: “Not that I can see, no.”
A group called the New IRA had claimed the March 4 bombing.
The councillor said he did not speak for those who carried it out, adding: “They haven’t mentioned, as far as I’m aware, anything about 1916.”
Rather, he said, it was linked to “the ongoing situation in Maghaberry prison” – which he claimed involved “protests and beatings and taking away people’s rights”.
Asked if he was saying the attack was provoked by the jail authorities, he said: “Don’t be trying to put words into my mouth, please.”
He said: “Any loss of human life is regrettable.
“And I think that the powers that be would’ve been better focusing on that prison and I think, like, the previous prison officer whose life was taken – I think that’s regrettable too, and I think these people have learned nothing from history.”
He was asked if he condemned the killing, and said: “It’s regrettable. It’s regrettable. And I think it could’ve been prevented...
“A man has lost his life here. There’s a family without a father or grandfather. I think it’s regrettable.”
He was asked if it was ethically wrong, rather than just regrettable.
“It’s regrettable... I’d prefer if you didn’t try and get a sensationalist headline here. Because when I say to you it’s regrettable, I mean that.”
Mr Spratt meanwhile said that dissident republican prisoners’ idea of ill treatment is “they can’t get doing what they want to do”.
He said last night: “They want to run their own landings – like they used to do in the Maze days.
“I can assure you, it’s the opposite way around.
“It’s the staff who are being mistreated by them.”