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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 12:45 GMT 13:45 UK
'Separation' for NI prisoners
Maghaberry jail
The report follows recent protests at Maghaberry prison
A review of safety at Northern Ireland's main prison has recommended separating republican and loyalist prisoners.

The move is to be introduced in the wake of violent clashes between rival groups in Maghaberry prison in County Antrim and in the face of a "dirty protest" by a group of dissident republicans.

However, ministers have insisted the move will not mean a return to the system of segregation which used to operate in the now closed Maze Prison, under which paramilitary groups virtually ran their own prison section.

Stormont Security Minister Jane Kennedy said that prison staff would still remain in complete control of the jail.

She said: "No-one wants a return to the conditions that existed at the Maze where prisoners could intimidate and attack other prisoners and staff.

Finlay Spratt: Welcomed the report
Finlay Spratt: Welcomed the report
"The government, prison management and prison officers remain firmly of the view that integration is the safest regime for prisoners and staff when prisoners conform and co-operate.

"But a small minority of prisoners have now refused that co-operation. They have set themselves against the regime in a way that comprises the safety of both staff and prisoners."

The consultation was led by Sir John Steele, who was head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service from 1987 to 1992, and a former head of security policy for the Northern Ireland Office.

It follows recent protests inside Maghaberry jail 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.

It is sensible that prisoners who are diametrically opposed on the outside shouldn't be held together on the inside
William Smyth
Progressive Unionist Party

The review team has spoken to more than 100 prisoners, 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.

Prison Officers Association chairman Finlay Spratt welcomed the report which, he said, had addressed the safety issues within the prison.

He said that attacks on prison officers "should now cease at once".

Mr Spratt said the best way of running a prison was on an integrated basis, but a response had to be found to deal with those who refused to co-operate.

"Staff will do the job demanded by the Secretary of State provided we have the resources and support to do that job."

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said keeping prisoners apart was the right decision.

"The argument really is around the safety of prisoners within the prison and whether or not it's sensible to integrate prisoners who are politically and diametrically opposed to one another," he said.

"Outside, there is certainly a consensus among the public and among the political parties that the separation or segregation of prisoners is the sensible route to go."

The Progressive Unionist Party's prisoners spokesman, William Smyth, said he thought inmates would look at separation as a logical decision.

Prisoners on roof of Maghaberry Jail
A recent rooftop protest at Maghaberry jail
"I don't think the prisoners will see it as a victory for themselves. I think they'll see it as victory for commonsense," he said.

"It is sensible that prisoners who are diametrically opposed on the outside shouldn't be held together on the inside."

On Sunday, about 500 people held a demonstration outside Maghaberry prison in protest at conditions under which loyalist prisoners are being held.

The protest which lasted for about an hour was organised by the Ulster Political Research Group and a prisoners' group.

Tommy Kirkham of the UPRG, which is linked to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association, claimed understaffing was causing problems at the prison.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Simpson reports from Belfast
"Violent men who hated each other on the outside were hardly likely to live in peace on the inside"


BBC NI security editor Brian Rowan
"The report on jail safety was passed to the secretary of state 10 days ago"



SEE ALSO:
Loyalists protest outside prison
07 Sep 03  |  Northern Ireland
Jail report opts for 'separation'
05 Sep 03  |  Northern Ireland
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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