Direct rule and prison struggle

FRFI 174 August / September 2003

As British imperialism continues its direct rule over the north of Ireland, the hopes and dreams the middle class invested in the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) seem light years away.

Sinn Fein continues to call for the Labour government to set a date for elections to the Assembly while the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), Sinn Fein’s erstwhile partners in the peace process, are virtually split down the middle over whether to continue their limited commitment to the process. Three UUP MPs, Martin Smyth, Jeffrey Donaldson and David Burnside have resigned the party whip in the House of Commons over the issue. Smyth is the party president and Donaldson the vice-president. David Trimble’s attempts to expel them from the party were blocked by a legal challenge.

At the present time, anti-agreement Unionists are in the ascendancy and would certainly claim a majority of the Unionist vote if elections to the Assembly were held now. In the present political situation direct rule seems to be the only option for British imperialism.

The political impasse that the GFA has reached has not stopped the Northern Ireland Office and Paul Murphy, the Secretary of State, from continuing with their criminalisation policy against Republican prisoners sentenced after the implementation of the GFA.

This policy, which denies the political character of their offences, involves an attempt in Maghaberry Gaol to force the integration of Republican, Loyalist and non-political prisoners within the same wing. This came to a head on 27 June when the prison authorities attempted to put Republican prisoners in the same cells as Loyalists. Prisoners staged a 24-hour roof top protest against prison conditions and started fires in one of the wings.

The response of the prisoners to continuing abuse and degrading treatment has been to escalate their protests. Relatives have said that prisoners have wrecked their cells and that some have smeared excrement on their cell walls.

All those who oppose British imperialism’s continued occupation of the north of Ireland should support the campaign of Republican prisoners at Maghaberry for political status. m

Bob Shepherd


Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed

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