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18 December 1997 Edition

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A lifer's Christmas inside

By Laura Friel

Harry Maguire, one of the Casement Accused, was arrested in 1988 and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1989, in one of the most controversial cases heard in the Six Counties.

Despite the fact that no one was ever charged or convicted of actually firing the shots which killed either of the two British soldiers, five men were convicted of murder on the grounds of common purpose.

And despite international condemnation of the Casement trials, only one of the five, Patrick Kane, had their conviction quashed on appeal.

Originally from Ardoyne, Harry Maguire lived in West Belfast's Andersonstown for over 20 years. At the time of his arrest his two children were at the tender ages of nine and six years. With Christmas approaching Harry, who is not eligible for Christmas parole, spoke to An Phoblacht.

``Obviously every prisoner is thinking about their families. Christmas is family orientated. Separation is difficult, and has to be coped with at any time of the year but Christmas brings it into sharp focus.

``My own two children, Leontia and Odhran are eighteen and fifteen years of age now. This is the ninth Christmas I have been separated from them. I have very happy memories of my own childhood. Memories of sharing Christmas with my mother and father. It is a sad reflection to know my children won't have similar memories. ``

In 1995, prisoners were allowed access to telephones. Harry recalls the impact of being able to phone home at Christmas. ``I remember it was just great. You should have seen the queue! I telephoned my kids on Christmas Eve and it was really a big event. I remember it as a great moment, talking for the first time in years to Leontia and Odhran on Christmas Eve.

``We all felt the same but of course it also heightened the sense of separation. I just longed to be home with them that year. Of course Christmas is a hard time for families of prisoners. The expense of Christmas puts a lot of stress on prisoners' partners. There are 24 POWs on this wing and you hear a lot of talk about money worries in the run up to Christmas.''

``A lot of the lads will be getting parole this year, which is great. Just over half of this wing will not be getting parole. It's just a question of making the best of it. It's not all doom and gloom.''

Harry describes how the prisoners will celebrate the day. ``We'll be decorating the wing probably this week. There'll be a bit of cleaning and a bit of tidying going on. On Christmas Day we all make an effort. The tables are arranged together and covered with sheets. It'll look like a wedding reception, if you know what I mean. We all eat together and spend the day like a family unit. No doubt there'll be a bit of craic.''

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