Over the past few days Maghaberry Prison has featured prominently in local news broadcasts. This follows on from an arbitrary lock down within the Roe House area of the prison which houses around fifty Republican Political Prisoners. Reports emerging from the prison tell us of the violence being meted out to political prisoners after general prison staff were temporarily replaced by a riot squad referred to as a 'standby search team.'
In a joint 2009 report by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice it was suggested that the search team be removed from the prison due to their forceful presence, the lack of independent oversight and the failure of prison authorities to address complaints over their conduct. Recent events in Maghaberry would reinforce the need for the Justice Department and Prison Authorities to follow these recommendations and to ensure that the treatment of prisoners is compliant with international human rights standards.
With justice powers and the daily running of prisons a devolved responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly we must question the silence of public representatives on this issue. Maybe these representatives including Justice Minister Mr Ford should take time to read the statement published on the Madden and Finucane Solicitors website which tells of how prison authorities refused to allow injured prisoners medical and legal visits.
Seventeen years on from the Good Friday Agreement political prisoners continue to endure arbitrary lock down, 23 hour lock up, controlled movement and regular brutal forced strip searching despite an agreement brokered in August 2010 to address these issues. If this was happening in any other country in the world our so called civic leaders and moral guardians would be queuing up to condemn it yet here their silence speaks volumes as does their hypocrisy and double standards.
Another worrying issue that should be of concern to every right thinking individual is the blatant erosion of civil liberties. There are now a growing number of people being imprisoned for long periods of time without trial under the guise of remand which is something the DUP have overlooked in their attempts to justify the situation in Maghaberry.
The responsibility for the ongoing human rights abuses in Maghaberry unlike the past cannot be laid at the door of Downing Street, these human rights abuses are being carried out by a prison staff employed by the Northern Ireland Assembly and as much as they try and shirk their collective responsibilities they like Pontious Pilate will never be able to wash the blood off their hands.
I would call on anyone who opposes human rights abuse to exercise whatever influence they can, and especially those in the clergy who again remain silent.