Well there is no surprise in this tragic news. In fact observers have been predicting something along these lines for several months now. According to the news media a member of the British-run Northern Ireland Prison Service was killed in an ambush in County Armagh. So far reports are pointing towards an operation by Resistance Republicans, partly on the basis of briefings by the PSNI, the British paramilitary police force in the North of Ireland, who initially believed the incident was the result of a road accident.
From the Guardian newspaper:
“Dissident republicans are believed to have shot dead a Northern Ireland prison officer in a motorway ambush.
David Black, who had worked in the Northern Ireland Prison Service for more than 30 years and was nearing retirement, was shot dead on Thursday on the M1 between Lurgan and Portadown, in County Armargh.
In what has been described as an ambush, Black, from Cookstown, Co Tyrone, was killed after shots were fired into the car as he drove to work at the top security Maghaberry jail near Lisburn, Co Antrim, which holds several key republican dissident prisoners.
At first the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) thought the death was caused by a road crash and shut down the busy motorway shortly after 7.30am on Thursday.
When officers later examined the vehicle they realised that shots had been fired into his car, prompting it to go out of control and spin off the motorway at the M12 junction.
Both the Provisional IRA and the Irish National Liberation Army targeted and killed prison officers during the long disputes in the jails climaxing in the 1981 hunger strike.
At present, Maghaberry – Northern Ireland’s maximum security prison on the outskirts of Belfast – is the focal point for ongoing protests by Continuity IRA and other dissident republican inmates. There is also widespread anger among those republicans opposed to Sinn Féin’s peace strategy about the continued incarceration of the Old Bailey bomber and IRA veteran Marion Price in a prison hospital.”
Though some reports are linking the Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) to the attack little evidence has been presented so far. In fact the vehicle registration of the car used in the ambush was a Dublin one (pointing towards the Real Irish Republican Army or RIRA) and operationally the CIRA remains crippled by internal disputes. However all that is an aside.
The real issue here is the ongoing protests by political prisoners in the North of Ireland and the slow descent into violence and anarchy now gripping the prisons in that part of the country, all of which have led to the unfortunate death of prison officer Black. Over the last year human rights’ activists, journalists, politicians and many others have repeatedly warned that the deteriorating situation in the prisons, specifically the now infamous Maghaberry Prison, were building up a head of steam that would inevitably lead to violence. With a significant number of prisoners being forced to engage in de facto “dirty protests” to highlight the brutality of their treatment and the deplorable conditions they are being kept in no one should or can be surprised by the tragic incident in Armagh.
Unfortunately the majority of the British media, along with much of its Irish counterpart, has resolutely ignored the prison protests in the North of Ireland, simply refusing to address or highlight what is going on. Instead it has been left to a legion of freelance journalists, bloggers, activists and a growing number of Irish and US politicians to highlight the growing trouble.
Despite the limited reform of policing through the disbandment of Britain’s former paramilitary police force in the North of Ireland, the notorious RUC, the Northern Ireland Prison Service has largely escaped rehabilitation. Some officers with long records of misconduct and brutality were retained right into the “Peace Process era” and a few continue to serve in the same roles for which they previously gained such infamy. Even the smallest attempts at reform have been met with stubborn resistance, with Peter Robinson, the DUP leader and Joint First Minster of the North, threatening to wreck the entire Peace Process at the mere mention of prison warders receiving new apolitical hat badges!
In fact the only genuine reform of the Prison Service since the signing of the Belfast Agreement in 1998 involved massive financial “bribes” to encourage long serving officers into early retirement.
This institutionalised culture of violence towards political prisoners continues to operate within the Prison Service with only limited controls put in place to ameliorate it. Simply read this report by Emmet Doyle, published on the 22nd of October, both on his blog and on The Pensive Quill (and now reposted on many other sites). Doyle is a member of the SDLP, a political party that strongly disagrees with the tactics and strategy of the Resistance Republican movement, yet note his outrage and concern here:
“Last Thursday I again found myself in the bleak surroundings of Roe House, Maghaberry Prison. Pat Ramsey and I went to visit some of the men, including Gerry McGeough. I thought that the shell-chocking effect of the place had hit me hard my first few visits, and that I couldn’t be shocked any further. Boy was I mistaken.
Usually, we enter Roe at landing four, and enter the Recreation Room to meet individuals and groups. It is a much larger, cleaner and more modern space. Akin, strangely, to my old school canteen. Not this time. We were led by the SO upstairs, to Roe 3 as the Officers and external staff were cleaning the floor on Roe 4, as a result of the on-going protest, and given it was early in the morning, the stench was almost overpowering.
At the foot of the stairs were bags and bags of Acro – the organic absorbent compound used to soak up urine on the floors, which is then hoovered up. As we descended, the clean, modern façade of Roe began to fade away. What I can only describe as a total mess, was piled up outside a cleaners store just before the security gate. An iron, cables, it was like someone had fly-tipped in the middle of the hall. Granted, they were all on a shelf, which I could spot after about ten seconds of looking, but this is supposed to be a Category A facility where human beings were held, it was a total travesty.
At the top of the stairs and through the first door, we had to wait until the gate was opened by Officers clad in CSI-white overalls, walkie-talkies and batons. Once on the landing, we were led to the “classroom”. I use inverted commas, primarily because there is no way on earth the room we were led to could be said to be a classroom. Other than the electronic whiteboard on the wall and the whiteboard on the floor at the back of the room with Irish on it, the only other thing that was in the room was dirt.
The desks must have been brought in from Long Kesh, they were so old. The computers at the back of the room, though they looked relatively modern, were covered in cobwebs and debris. On the wall was a canvass picture – of a red telephone box and Big Ben – ironic, I thought.
We met Gerry first, as always in good spirits and friendly, despite the obvious hardship he has endured. We all spoke for about 40 minutes, then we met a few other men, all who raised issues about the primary issue coming out of Maghaberry at present – healthcare.
That is a conversation for another day. After the meetings had ended, we emerged from the cave which was deemed a classroom, and were once again on the landing, smell and spray [which has brought me out in a rash again this week] right in our faces. It was lunchtime, and the Officers set about going to give the men their plastic covered food.
Pat set off down the right side of Roe, seeking out two opened cells at the bottom of the wing – one cleaned, one dirty. I set out down the left side, seeking out the new machine that was being used below to clean the cells, which had been causing annoyance to both staff and prisoners as it was used in conjunction with a diesel generator, and the fumes in such an enclosed area were not pleasant.
I couldn’t get downstairs, but I asked one of the officers to go down and see if he could get me the name of the machine, its make, serial number, any markings on it. He re-appeared a few minutes later, but with no information. I wasn’t leaving without it.
Pat came back up the landing from one of the dirty cells, shaking his head. I had caught a glimpse of the cell on way down to see if I could get downstairs, and would be lying if I said I wasn’t physically afraid of going to look into it.
When we were ‘spun out’ of the landing [the process whereby one officer has to radio another officer in another part of the building to release the turnstiles to let us out] we went back downstairs, though locked back from the landing on Roe 4. I asked to see the SO, to get the information I had sought about this machine, while making notes about the cleaning products and absorbent material being used for the protest clean-up. Again, no joy.
Surprisingly, and I have to give credit where it is due – one of the external workers, about my age, came right up to the gate and asked what I was looking for – I repeated, the name, serial number, model of the new cleaner – and he came back a few minutes later with the information on a post-it.
As we left, escorted by an Officer to the exit of the compound, that feeling of not wanting to leave but impatient to get out of the harrowing building again visited me, and Pat also, as it always did. As we walked up the driveway towards the main gate, the follow-up plans flowed, as they always did, what was next to address the issues raised, which family members did we need to phone.
Let no-one tell you that the men there, and indeed all prisoners regardless of colour, creed or nationality have no-one standing up for them in the Assembly – because we left the Quakers after a near two-hour visit to Roe and after getting our first food of the day (and toilet break given we are not permitted to use facilities in the prison) and drove straight to Parliament Buildings to address what we could from there.
I know that eight or nine Deputies are to visit Roe within the coming weeks – something made possible by the changing of prison rules that we had worked on for months to allow TDs equal access to Northern prisons as MLAs and MPs have. That will be important for all in Roe – to know that honourable men and women North and South have not forgotten.
I’ll finish by saying the intense itching in the car to Stormont and the rash and boils underneath my beard following the visit as a result of the spray, have now ceased, but I don’t know how they do it.
“A Day In Maghaberry Prison
Its 27th September about 5 o’clock in the morning I am lying in my cell nervously thinking about the day ahead.
Today I am in court and with court comes the brutal, degrading and humiliating tactic of the forced strip search of Republican prisoners. This is not my first time being brought to court so I know what lies ahead. My heart beats faster and faster I can actually hear it pumping through my chest as thoughts of what I am about to receive run through my mind. I might be worried but at the same time I know I wont comply to these bitter heartless torturers.
The next few hours seem to drag in then about 7 o’clock the alarm bells ring throughout the wing, they couldn’t be any louder. I lift myself up into a sitting position and stretching myself out I look into corner of the cell and see last nights dinner I had thrown it there as it wasn’t edible.
Looking on the floor beside my bed I see my breakfast, a small packet of Alpen and a half carton of milk, the screws [prison officers] had threw it into my cell the night before knowing I was for court this morning. I eat this and when finished I keep the spoon as I will need it later. I rip up the plastic container it came with and the milk carton and I throw them out the window, this procedure happens with the three daily meals, it stops them from using the containers and cutlery over and over again and it also leaves the outside of the Republican wing looking like a rubbish dump which annoys the administration as they have to pay industrial cleaners every so often to come in and clean it up.
I can hear the cleaners outside with big hoovering machines cleaning up the mess we had made by pouring the stuff threw the doors last night. I realise I had better go to the toilet quickly before they come and get me for court. The toilet consists of a sheet of newspaper on the ground and an empty half carton of milk, out the window the urine goes and onto the wall the rest of it goes. Its not a nice thing to be spreading this onto the wall first thing in the morning, not a nice thing to be doing anytime of the day but we have no other choice the administration has forced us into this position but at least today there is room to spread it, my cell was cleaned for the first time 2 weeks ago, before that the four walls were covered top to bottom with a double coat of excrement as well as the ceiling. The ceiling isn’t accessible to all the prisoners as height comes into play here. To cover the ceiling it entails stacking a load of newspapers on top of the plastic chair we have or placing your brown bag of clothes on top of the chair and standing on it, it takes good balance as it is awkward but it is a good feeling knowing that the person cleaning it with the power hose will be finding it difficult to dodge the waste coming down on him from the ceiling.
Shortly after the door opens and there they stand. The riot squad. These are the hateful rats that work our landing every single day. There are four of them “shower, you’re for court” one of them snarls. I walk out carrying my towel, toothbrush/paste and soapbox, one of them takes these from me and searches through the towel and box, another searches me from head to toe while the other two just stand and stare at me with hate filled eyes. The four of them walk me the short distance to the showers, two to the front of me and two behind me, this is what they call controlled movement. No other prisoner will be out on the landing while another prisoner is on it and at all times he will have four of this riot team around him.
At the showers they throw a box at my feet with a brown paper bag on top, in this box we have our clean clothes, they don’t let us wear the clothes we have in our cells when we leave the landing as they say they are contaminated.
I take my clothes out of the box and lift the brown bag, they open the steel barred grille let me in and then lock it behind me. I’m only in a few minutes when one of them shouts “hurry up the bus is here” I take my time I’m in no rush for what lies ahead. I put the clothes I had wore leaving my cell plus the towel and toiletries into the brown paper bag I walk over to the grilles the same four are standing waiting. One takes the brown bag and searches it thoroughly while another searches me again from head to toe and the other two yet again just stare with their hate filled glare. “Right use the phone” one of them says I tell him that I can’t use the phone as my phone card is in my cell “not our problem” he says and I quickly realise that I wont get my 5 min phone call to my family today with that he turns to other members of the riot team who have now gathered at the reception desk “that’s him for the bus, he doesn’t want the phone” they all burst out laughing. Pathetic.
Four of them again walk me the short distance to the grilles that leads me off our landing and out into to the circle, through one gate and then another a short walk to the turn-style,through it and straight onto the bus at the entrance of Roe house. The engine starts and away we go. There is a small hole in the material used to blank out the window and as we go through the two large electronically controlled gates I can see we pass the search box. The search box contains the boss chair which is a body scanner that can detect objects hidden inside ones body they put us through this on our way back from visits so why cant they just put me through it now instead of driving straight by it and on to the reception area where a body search will be forced upon me by a five strong riot team.
My stomach is in knots as the van pulls up to the reception area. I’m brought into the reception area and asked immediately if I am going to comply with the strip search. My answer is no. They put me into a small room and tell me I have 15 minutes reflection time to think about it. “I don’t need it” I say but the door slams firmly shut. During this time I am pacing up and down the small room taking deep breaths and moving my arms and wrists in circular motions to loosen them up for the attack that lies ahead. After the allotted time the door opens and a governor walks in he asks me am I going to comply with the strip search, more determined than ever I repeat “no”, he asks is there anything he can do that will change my mind again I say no, “ok then” he says “I am going to order the search” and he walks out. Within seconds a five strong riot team rush through the door, one of them runs to the corner with a hand held video camera in his hand while two quickly rush me and grab my arms, they pull them straight out from my sides and twist my wrists, fingers and arms into some kind of martial art lock. A third grabs hold of my head and pushes it down to my chest whilst pushing me hard enough to force me to my knees.
Whilst on my knees my arms are outstretched in a crucifix type position and my wrists are twisted agonizingly upwards. The fourth member goes behind me and pulls my legs from the kneeling position while the third one forces my head to the floor, all the while the other two still have my arms, wrists and fingers in locks, I am now lying face flat on the floor two of the riot squad are on the ground with me still with my arms wrists and fingers in these painful locks. Again the fourth member of the team begins taking off my shoes and socks, he searches them and finds nothing, he then pulls off my jeans and underwear leaving me naked from the waist down, again he searches these and finds nothing, Then the third one lifts my head about 8 inches off the floor while the other two have my arms wrists and fingers still in locks then the one doing the stripping pulls off my t-shirt searches it and finding nothing, he throws it on top of me and the senior officer of the riot squad tells them one by one to pull out. The first to go is the one stripping me he is then followed by the one who is holding my head to the floor. This leaves three of them still in the room, one in the corner who has been videoing the whole ordeal and the other two who have my arms, wrists and fingers in locks. All of a sudden one of them starts shouting “stop resisting, stop resisting” I can’t move never mind resist and at this they systematically pull my arms up outstretched behind my back. I squeal in agony, I don’t know how to explain the position I am in because I don’t think it would be humanely possible to put ones body in this shape, I think my shoulders are going to pop out, I feel my wrists are at breaking point, I am still screaming in pain when they let me drop to the floor, “don’t get up till we leave the room” one of them says. I just lie there in agony but a sigh of relief comes over me, it was over, for now.
I get myself together and get on my feet I look at the door, the hatch is open and the one who had the camera is still videoing, I get dressed and the hatch slams shut. Within a minute the governor walks into the room “have you any complaints about the search?” he asks I say it was overly aggressive and uncalled for. “I’ll make a note of it” he says he leaves the room and a nurse enters “have you any injuries?” I just look at her, and she leaves. The screws at the door shout “lets go.”
I walk out to the reception area and there is the riot squad standing laughing, they all stand tall as if they had just carried out something to be proud of. I just look at them smirk and turn and walk to the front door.
Out we go and into the prison van for the short journey to Laganside courts in Belfast. Once there I am brought straight down to the cells and I wait to be called. Within the hour I am brought upstairs to the courtroom. I get to sit beside three of my friends who are in the dock with me, all four of us in court on trumped up charges placed against us by the RUC [PSNI]. Within minutes the judge adjourns it as the so called police witnesses haven’t appeared.
I shake hands with my friends and am lead back down to the cells. I am held here for a few hours. They bring me lunch, a sandwich and a packet of crisps and then its back onto the prison van and the same short journey back to Maghaberry.
The nerves in my stomach return again. I know they are waiting on me.
Back in reception the whole brutal procedure is repeated again.
I am in agonizing pain as I am brought back to Roe 4. I am lead straight to my cell by four of the riot squad. Two in front and two behind.
The cell door slams behind me. My dinner is already sitting on the bed, freezing cold potatoes and some kind of cheese and broccoli slice. I throw it behind the door and lie down on top of the bed and think about the day I’ve just had. I ask myself, why do they drive past the search box with the boss chair in it?
If they put us through the boss chair leaving Maghaberry then there would be no need for these brutal forced strip-searches. Then reality kicks in, it is all about power and control. I cant help but wonder what sort of person would you have to be to go to work every day and brutalise another human being ? A sick individual is my only conclusion.
As I lie there in thought my cell door opens “anything for the duty governor” one of them says, I don’t even lift my head to acknowledge him the cell door slams shut.
Its about half 6 now time to start the nightly building of the dam to block the door for when I put the stuff out later. Some skill is needed in mastering this art but within a few days I had it sussed.
When I need to go to the toilet later I will use the plastic spoon I saved from this morning from breakfast to mix it all together until it turns into a brown nasty liquid which I will be able to pour out onto the landing.We never get to see it but I would love to see the state of the landing and the mess they have to clean up after all the lads have emptied their mix out the doors. With this done and after a little bit of reading I close my eyes and settle down for the night. Tomorrow brings a new day and although we might be locked up 23 hours a day I will get to see my friends and comrades during that little bit of exercise time. This brings a smile to my face because despite the treacherous conditions we are forced to live in despite the brutal regime we are forced to endure, the craic and the spirit couldn’t be greater.
It fills me with great pride to play a small part in this phase of the prison struggle. We are more determined now than ever to see this protest through to the end and we will win. These men on dirty protest here in Maghaberry are brave men, these men are strong men but above all else these men are Irish Republicans.
Victory to the protesting prisoners in Maghaberry.
ALAN LUNDY, P.O.W
ROE 4, MAGHABERRY”
With such brutality and inhumanity inside the British-run prisons of the North of Ireland is it any wonder that it manifests itself outside as well? Throughout the last 150 years Irish political prisoners in British custody and the conditions they endure have been one of the dynamos driving revolutionary Republicanism in Ireland (and beyond). Today we see that same dynamic in effect once again.