Peer hits out at prison protest arrangements

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland  - 16th November 2009  - Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye - General views of H.M. Prison Maghaberry which was closed to visitors on Thursday and Friday last week. Police aided the prison service in a search of the jail which resulted in finding items which could be used in the making of a bomb.  Prisoners were locked in their cells for the duration of search.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 16th November 2009 - Picture by Jonathan Porter / Press Eye - General views of H.M. Prison Maghaberry which was closed to visitors on Thursday and Friday last week. Police aided the prison service in a search of the jail which resulted in finding items which could be used in the making of a bomb. Prisoners were locked in their cells for the duration of search.

A DECISION to allow republican prisoners a £5 phone credit because their supporters were preventing visits has been slammed by a DUP peer.

All visits to Maghaberry were suspended on November 25 and 26 when authorities became aware of a planned protest at the prison.

Inmates – including the separated republicans whose supporters were causing the disruption – were then given the phone credit in lieu of their missed visits.

Lord Morrow described it as “a ridiculous culture of pandering to troublemakers”, and said it would not be tolerated in any other right-thinking society.

“The justice minister has confirmed only the republican wing are protesting, and at that, not all of the separated inmates support it.

“Prisoners – remand or sentenced – chose of their own volition to go into separated conditions and as such sign a compact agreeing to abide by specific rules. If they don’t like separated conditions, they can return to the main jail at any time,” the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said.

“However, if they do that, they will be met with the same, full search conditions they are presently protesting about, as such measures apply to all prisoners and are built into legislation,” he added.

During an assembly debate earlier this month, justice minister David Ford confirmed the protesters – from a group campaigning against strip-searching and controlled movement within the jail – had not sought prior permission to gather at the prison.

“The Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) became aware that a vigil on the grounds of Maghaberry prison was being planned for 25 and 26 November, when details were posted on a website.

“Following discussions between the police service and the prison service, it was decided to facilitate a peaceful protest in the grounds of Maghaberry prison in line with articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“No permission for the protest to take place was sought from NIPS,” the minister said.

Mr Ford also said attempts were made to contact the protest organisers to “establish boundaries that would facilitate the protest” but added: “No response was received from the organisers. The governor, therefore, arranged for notices to be posted.

“Those notices made it clear that the protest must be conducted lawfully, peacefully and without threat or intimidation towards any persons and must not cause any disruption to the good order and safety of the prison.”

Speaking yesterday, a justice department spokeswoman said: “Prison Service management decided to give all prisoners in Maghaberry Prison a £5 phone credit to allow them to keep in contact with their families during the two day protest during which all visits to the prison were cancelled.”

Commenting on a pledge by the minister to bring prisoner protesters acting illegally to justice, the spokeswoman added: “The PSNI has charged an individual in relation to (the Nov 25 and 26) disturbances.”