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Maze prison
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The Maze prison
The H-Blocks were designed to house prisoners in cells
The H-Blocks 1976-1978
The new Labour Secretary of State Merlyn Rees phased out Special Category Status from 1 March 1976, arguing that prison officials had no control over the prisoners who now numbered 1,500. Prisoners convicted under the Whitelaw provisions retained their rights.
But paramilitaries convicted of offences after that date were housed in the eight new "H-Blocks" at the Maze - four wings off a central administration area.
As soon as newly-convicted republican paramilitaries were transferred to the new cells they refused to conform to a prison regime, saying that they were not common criminals. Their first act was to refuse to wear a prison uniform. Denied their own clothes they wore the bedlinen instead. Prisoners who joined the protest were described as being "on the blanket". By 1978 more than 300 men had joined the protest at the Maze but ministers in London refused to cede to demands for political status. The prisoners decided to raise the stakes.

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