Concern at prison protests

Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney has expressed his “serious concerns” at the ongoing dissident prison protests which he describes as “a human rights issue.” Mr. McCartney also called on all involved to “redouble our efforts to resolve the matter in a substantial manner.”

Despite a deal being agreed between Prison Service and prisoners in August 2010 the dissident Republican protest seems no closer to a resolution. Mr McCartney who is Committee Deputy Chairman of the Justice Committee and who himself served a total of 19 years as a Republican prisoner, called for the “immediate implementation of the 2010 agreement by the Prison Service. “A meaningful open dialogue is the only way to resolve the issue. We as a party have long argued that prisoners need to be treated with dignity and respect. At the centre of the prison protest is the issue of human rights.” Approximately 30 prisoners, some with links to the Real and Continuity IRA and ONH, are protesting against the use of strip searches and freedom of movement with the jail. Some of the prisoners have taken to smearing excrement on their cell walls, cells which they are confined to for up to 23 hours per day without toilet facilities. “This is not how to treat prisoners in 2011,” said Mr. McCartney MLA who has been involved in “frank” discussions with prisoners during many prison fact finding visits in the past year. “Prisoners need to be treated with dignity and respect and the August agreement provides for that. The Justice Minister David Ford should accept that an opportunity to settle this has been lost. A constructive process of dialogue is missing and that is the first step to resolving this.” He said his party’s position was; “continuing to press the Justice Minster to enact the reforms contained in the Owers Report, a report which reaffirms our position that the Prison Service needs a radical overhaul.” In relation to the issue of full body searches, the Owers report recommended that appropriate technology should replace the need for a full body search. “There is a history of such searches being used in a punitive fashion. An alternative, such as ‘appropriate technology,’ should be found and implemented immediately. In my opinion this could act as a mechanism to enact the appropriate change.” Mr. McCartney also reiterated his party’s position that; “No one should be in prison on the back of a licence being revoked. Therefore we call for the immediate release of Marion Price and Gerry McGeough.”