Discrimination of Irish Identity in Maghaberry Prison
Just Scratch The Surface…
Over recent months Republican Prisoners have highlighted discrimination against Irish culture and traditions by the jail administration. We have, of course, consistently highlighted the oppressive sectarian nature of NIPs, despite the best efforts of individuals such as Sue McAlister, David Ford and miscreant SDLP politicians to paint it as a ‘civic service’. Our position has been substantiated statistically, by reports-including the recent HMIP/CJINI report, and by the reports of objective observers, including Peter Bunting who stated recently in Leinster House that DUP interference and sectarianism were to blame for the failure to resolve the problems affecting Republican Prisoners. It is clear that NIPs is afflicted by an anti-Republican, anti-Irish and sectarian mentality, which is reflected in their behaviour toward Republican Prisoners.
NIPs has consistently denied Republican Prisoners access to an Irish teacher, and have ripped Irish language signs designed to aid learners from the walls. They have prevented access to traditional instruments despite Ombudsman recommendations and have also refused traditional music classes. They have refused to provide any GAA facilities, ignoring requests for such and prevaricating on other issues such as basic access to GAA nets. They have refused to allow in jerseys and T-shirts because, for example, they had the lyrics to ‘The Lonely Banna Strand’, a reference to 1916 and a quote from Pádraig Pearse. They have refused access to books and literature, including those authored by Richard English, from academics and by others, and even forced family members to rip the cover of Kieran Conway’s ‘Southside Provisional’ before allowing them to leave it in. They have refused access to CD’s containing folk songs and traditional ballads and DVD’s such as ‘Hunger’, which is regularly featured on Film 4. They also charged a man earlier this year for erecting a tricolour during Easter week in a communal area of the wing.
So confident is NIPs in its freedom from accountability that they have provided only outrageous excuses for their behaviour, amounting to thinly veiled bigotry and a dismissal of any notion of ‘equality’. They have ludicrously claimed that their right to deny the rights of almost thirty prisoners stems from the need for a ‘neutral working environment’. Somehow Republican Prisoners listening to music, watching films or reading literature featuring our culture, heritage and traditions will impact the rights of jail staff. This is especially ludicrous given that such literature regularly features in the media, such DVDs regularly feature on the TV, as does such music, which can also be produced via the vocal chords, which thankfully, NIPs have not yet found a means to supress.
All of this has been previously highlighted, yet no change was effected. Whilst nationalist politicians and others laud the cosmetic, so -called progress in the PSNI, it seems they are unconcerned about the prisons which are less subject to public exposure and scrutiny, and therefore not a PR concern. Republican Prisoners have, however, initiated legal action on these issues, one example of this relating to a Miscarriage of Justice document featured recently in the Irish News and all of this will undoubtedly feature further in the media as these legal actions progress. However, as is obvious, NIPs is unconcerned with public image, knowing well that this will still not give rise to any challenge from pusillanimous political quarters.
The responses to some of the legal actions from NIPs, printed on official Stormont DOJ paper, have been farcical and unashamedly hate-filled. Sinn Féin, SDLP and Leinster House politicians should pay particular attention to the following content. On 05/10/2016 a governor responded to a solicitors letter stating:
“The Northern Ireland Prison Service has over recent months been required to remove such (sic) inflammatory items such as Irish tricolours…..and signs erected by prisoners in Irish….”
This was in response to a challenge regarding a printed issue the ‘Scairt Amach’ magazine being refused despite it being composed in the jail to begin with. It is clear, however, that the Irish Language and national flag are ‘inflammatory’.
In response to a challenge regarding CD’s being denied on 07/07/2016 the security governor wrote:
“Several songs included in the CD your client has requested are inextricably linked to the 1916 Rising and other Republican terrorist campaigns since then. These include ‘Kevin Barry’, ‘The Time has Come’, ‘The Broad Black Brimmer’, ‘The Men Behind the Wire’…..These songs glorify armed insurrection and rebellion, prison related deaths of Republican terrorists and are supportive of terrorist organisations (past and present)”.
Only a number of weeks ago the SDLP attacked Republican Prisoners. How does it sit with them that they backed an administration which believes its leaders sat with Free State politicians celebrating a ‘Republican Terrorist Campaign’ at Easter?
In a further response regarding CD’s on 11/10/16. The security governor wrote:
“….posters, language and even music is used to delineate ‘territory (on the landing)’. The album “The Very Best of Barleycorn” includes a song written by IRA Hunger Striker Bobby Sands which refers to Irish Rebels being transported to Australia, and a song about Padraig Pearse who was executed for his role in the 1916 Rising. “These songs glorify armed insurrection and rebellion….. They glorify prison related deaths of Republican terrorists and are supportive of terrorist organisations (past and Present) “. “Republican terrorists still today carry out murder and maiming….in the name of those executed in 1916”.
He goes on to outline the songs with which NIPs has taken issue these include:
“The Fields of Athenry, a folk song used by some to link it to nationalism and terrorist groupings.”
“The Rose of Allendale” which was described in the same terms as The Fields of Athenry, and also:
“The Craic was Ninety in the Isle of Man”, “Muirsheen Durkin”, “Easy and Slow”, “The Bramble and the Rose”, “Grace”, “A Place in the Chair” and “The Wests Awake”. He then notes that these examples came from a ‘cursory search’ but other such examples of “Republican (Songs) which glorify terrorism past and present can be found. “
Finally regarding DVD’s he writes regarding ‘H3’ and ‘Hunger’:
“These DVDs portray terrorist prisoners as being subject to mistreatment from prison staff when in prison, whilst at the same time glorifying the actions….that resulted in them being imprisoned.”
These remarks hardly need further explanation; it remains clear that today in 2016 we are faced with a ‘prison service’ which remains free to discriminate against Irish cultural identity. Of course Maghaberry and NIPs are only reflective of a failed process of cosmetic reform. It must be remembered that Maghaberry is an institution which exists and operates with the support of nationalist politicians in Leinster House and Stormont, with its basis in the Good Friday Agreement. Despite everything claimed by these quarters regarding ‘progress’ and ‘equality’ this institution prevents Irish men from practicing their culture and traditions, and labels definitive characters in our history as terrorists.
NIPs remains a bastion of the Orange State.