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Last Updated: Friday, 5 September, 2003, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Jail report opts for 'separation'
Brian Rowan
BBC Northern Ireland security editor

A report into safety at Northern Ireland's main prison is expected to recommend separating republican and loyalist prisoners.

But it will rule out the type of segregation which led to years of paramilitary dominance on the wings of the now-closed Maze Prison.

Prisoners on roof of Maghaberry Jail
Prisoners have been protesting at Maghaberry jail
The report follows recent protests inside Maghaberry jail near Lisburn and violent clashes between republican and loyalist inmates at the prison who want want to be housed in separate wings.

Five dissident republican prisoners are also taking part in a "dirty protest" in the jail.

Last month, Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy commissioned a review of safety at the prison.

The report to be published next week was carried out by John Steele, the former controller of prisons and a former director of security policy at the Northern Ireland Office.

His report is now with the secretary of state and, according to a range of sources, will conclude that current arrangements are not safe.

Sources say the Steele report contains a substantial number of recommendations and spells out options to make the jail safe - including what's being described as "a degree of separation" for republican and loyalist inmates.

What is being emphasised, however, is that this will not be a return to Maze-like conditions - where the various paramilitary groups dominated their wings and cells remained unlocked 24 hours a day.

In that regime, loyalists murdered one of their own prisoners and the IRA dug an escape tunnel undetected.

"We can't ever go back to that, " one source told BBC News Online.

And he emphasised that prison officers will remain in charge.

Views

The Steele team has spoken to 110 prisoners in their cells at Maghaberry, to senior prison management, including the Director of Prisons, Peter Russell, as well as unions and staff.

They have heard the views of prisoners' families, the Board of Visitors and political parties.

They have also visited Portlaoise jail in the Republic of Ireland, where different republican factions are held separately.

Maghaberry jail
Dissident republicans are holding a 'dirty protest'
It's expected the government will accept the recommendation on separation.

Prisons management and the unions are expected to hold discussions on a plan to introduce the new regime.

Some dissident republican prisoners began a "dirty protest" at Maghaberry, smearing their cells with their own excrement and have threatened a hunger strike.

After a recent incident, where loyalists attacked republicans, the police were called in to investigate.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC NI security editor Brian Rowan reports:
"It is understood the report will conclude that current arrangements are not safe"



SEE ALSO:
Segregation demand haunts prison service
29 Aug 03  |  Northern Ireland
Safety review at Maghaberry
05 Aug 03  |  Northern Ireland
Jail authorities resisting 'dirty protest'
18 Jul 03  |  Northern Ireland
Roof-top prison protest over
28 Jun 03  |  Northern Ireland
Prisoners stage roof protest
28 Jun 03  |  Northern Ireland


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