There has been talk over recent weeks and months of ‘optimism’ regarding the potential for progress within the jail. David Ford’s Assessment Team has told us that he is committed to implementing the August 2010 Agreement. This is a view echoed by the I.C.R.C., a body which he has now permitted to potentially chair the renewed forum mechanism, and which he had excluded previously, in defiance of the recommendations of his own Assessment Team’s stocktake document.
In spite of the negative experience of previous dealings with the Jail Administration and the Stormont regime to which it is supposed to be accountable, Republican Political Prisoners (RPPs) could yet have had some faith in a potential for progress had it not been for the ever increasing, negative and regressive reality of the Jail Administration policy in Republican Roe House.
Fundamentally, there has been zero progress on the core issues: Controlled Movement, Forced Strip Searching and Enforced Isolation. Controlled Movement has been entrenched with the addition of a cage structure on Roe 4 landing. A structure which both the Prisoner Ombudsman and the Assessment Team stated was certainly not what they had envisaged in the stocktake. Forced Strip Searching of RPPs continues apace. Most recently a RPP was handcuffed to a member of jail staff for 18 hours while attending an outside hospital for a medical emergency. Despite this draconian security arrangement, the Jail Administration Governor still insisted on deploying the riot squad to forcibly strip search him on his return. Enforced Isolation, where once it was an exception, has now become the norm. More RPPs remain in isolation than ever before. Key to the isolation policy is MI5.
Since the emergence of the Stocktake and the DUP attack on it, the Jail Administration brought Governor Malcolm Swarbrick over from an English jail to ‘manage’ Republican Roe House. In that time he worked to contrive ‘alarm’ incidents on a wide scale; a process which culminated in his unleashing the riot squad on Roe 4 on 02/02/15, during which a RPP was badly beaten and denied medical attention. In spite of hundreds of Republican activists spontaneously deciding to organise a large protest at the front gate, the Jail Administration’s only response was to lock down the Republican wing and deny RPPs legal and family contact for 2 days.
In an effort to retrospectively construct some political cover for their actions, a number of RPPs were taken to Antrim Barracks’ interrogation centre to be questioned about bogus ‘threats’ to jail staff. Coupled with these actions external to the jail, the Jail Administration has also sought to cobble together all sorts of imaginary charges through its own internal ‘disciplinary process’. This has been used as a means to deny RPPs paroles with their families. Where the Jail Administration has failed to impose charges in advance of paroles, they have deliberately introduced drug dog searches. When RPPs return from parole and refuse the drug dog search, citing the Jail Administration’s prior acceptance and agreement of the fact that RPPs don’t use drugs, they get charged by this same Administration and subsequently lose future paroles.
Central to so much of the recent upsurge of Jail Administration aggression has been the figure of Malcolm Swarbrick. However RPPs are not so naive as to believe he is singularly responsible; rather he is only the point of the spear. The reality is that it is the MI5 administered jail security branch which is the real driving force. In recent times this influence has increased.
The Assessment Team, Prisoner Ombudsman and others who see themselves as ‘progressives’ stated that many of the governors who had dealings with RPPs previously, had been replaced by others more amenable to progressive change. However, the reality has been at total odds with this.
Amongst those brought in are governors Pat Grey and Colin McCready. Pat Grey is the former head of the Security Department at Maghaberry and Colin McCready is formerly Governor 5 at the Security Information Branch at the Jail Administration’s Headquarters. By his own admission, McCready was key to MI5 decisions to place RPPs in enforced isolation. These individuals have been key to efforts to subvert the August 2010 Agreement. They are the personification of the ‘security nexus’ RPPs have identified as being central to the reactionary unionist culture within Maghaberry jail.
In the short time they have been in position, not only has the Jail Administration not moved to the 6 RPPs out on each landing as laid out in the limited vision of the Assessment Team’s Stocktake document, but in fact, levels of Controlled Movement have increased. In the latest incident, Malcolm Swarbrick further limited the level of movement at a grille. Since then this whim has now been applied to all movement at all grilles on the Republican wing as ‘policy’.
The grille incident occurred in full view of the I.C.R.C. leadership and as such can only be viewed as a deliberate affront to that organisation. Furthermore, it could only have happened with at least the consent if not the connivance of the ‘new’, apparently ‘progressive’ former security governors.
RPPs have long understood that when the British establishment is dealing with its political enemies, it is generous with nothing but time. RPPs will not be drawn into a situation which is all process and no progress, even if it is chaired by an independent body such as the I.C.R.C.; while an MI5 led Jail Administration launches an all out constant effort to break the resistance of RPPs and impose a regime of criminalisation.
Republican Political Prisoners,
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Jim Slaven tweets @JimSlaven