Ford addresses Maghaberry concerns (UTV)

Justice Minister David Ford answered questions in the Assembly on safety at Maghaberry Prison on Tuesday as a security operation outside the facility ended.

Police and army bomb experts attending the security alert at the prison. (© Pacemaker)

The alert outside the perimeter of the prison near Lisburn, Co Antrim, led to the cancellation of all visits.

Police and army bomb experts attended the scene from the early morning following a call warning of a device in the area.

Teams searched the area with dogs and a bomb disposal robot but nothing untoward was found.

The Old Road was closed for a period but no evacuations were made.

Visits to Maghaberry Prison will return to normal on Wednesday 4 February 2015.

Northern Ireland Prison Service

It came after a protest was held on Monday at Roe House, where dissident republicans are held.

Around 200 supporters gathered outside the high security facility in support of prisoners involved in a standoff with workers. A prison guard who tried to get to work had to pull back after he was surrounded in his vehicle.

Speaking at the protest, Mandy Duffy, a spokeswoman for republican prisoners, said tensions were high due to the alleged mistreatment of prisoners and a change in conditions in the wings.

DUP Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan has questioned the policing of the protest.

“There are issues of concern that we have with how 200-plus republican supporters were able to come on to the site, you then had a prison officer unknowingly driving into that protest and that is a cause for concern to how that situation developed,” he told UTV.

He asked an urgent oral question to Justice Minister David Ford in the Assembly over incidents at the prison.

Minister Ford said there was an orchestrated campaign by some prisoners to take control of Roe House, but it had failed.

There does seem to be an orchestrated attempt on the part of some of the prisoners at Roe House, to gain control of the landings in general and that is not being allowed to happen.

Justice Minister David Ford

“Yesterday proved that that is not being allowed to happen by the determined and resolute and appropriate response from prison officers and prison management,” he said.

He told fellow Assembly members that the murder of prison officer David Black is being used to intimidate staff.

He said: “There is no doubt that verbal threats have been made against some prison officers, naming David Black and threats to those officers in Roe House and that must be stood against by all of us.

“There is no room for any such threat.”

He denied an accusation by UUP MLA Tom Elliott that concessions had been given to republican prisoners.

The Alliance Minister replied: “Concessions were not made, suggestions were made in the stock take report of movement towards gradually normalising the regime at Roe House and that is what was started, an implementation of gradual change subject to measures coming back, and those measures need to come back from prisoners before any further progress can be made.”

Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney has called for a full investigation into the incident in Maghaberry prison.

“No one wants to see an escalation of tensions in Maghaberry and the best way to improve the situation is to implement the August 2010 agreement between prisoners and prison authorities,” he said.

“Everyone should do all in their power to ensure a conflict free environment for prisoners, their families and prison staff.”

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness asked for an assessment team to come up with proposals to “try and ease the situation… and get a permanent settlement to this problem”.

The Justice Minister said independent assessors have an ongoing role.

“There will be issues for them to address in the future as they seek to assist in the normalisation of the Roe House regime and to ensure that the 2010 agreement is stuck to by those who are currently not,” the Minister responded.


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