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29 July 2010

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‘Right political will’ can break Maghaberry Prison impasse

Maghaberry Prison

THE issues behind prisoners’ protests at Maghaberry Prison can be resolved “with the right political will”, Raymond McCartney MLA has told An Phoblacht as Sinn Féin continues talks with the authorities to achieve a breakthrough.
Raymond McCartney and a number of senior Sinn Féin figures are having ongoing discussions with people on both sides of the dispute to try and find a solution.
Sinn Féin has met Justice Minister David Ford, Prison Department directors, senior governors, prisoner support groups outside the jail as well as some of the prisoners in the jail themselves.
In recent weeks, Raymond McCartney was part of a Sinn Féin delegation that met prisoners in Maghaberry. The delegation included Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, Paul Maskey MLA and John O’Dowd MLA. The Sinn Féin team was accompanied by Michael Culbert of Coiste na nIarchimí, the national republican ex-prisoners umbrella organisation.

The issues raised by the prisoners include:–

  • 23-hour lock-up;
  • Restrictive use of controlled movement;
  • Restricted access to education, canteen and recreational facilities;
  • Punitive strip-searching.

Raymond McCartney says that Sinn Féin has made it clear to everyone it has met – whether it’s the authorities or those on the prisoners’ side – that Sinn Féin wants these issues addressed on the grounds of basic human rights and prisoners’ rights to dignity.
“If the right political will is there, then there is hope of a solution,” Raymond says.
“Sinn Féin will certainly not give up its efforts to ensure that the rights of prisoners are protected. And we are hopeful that a resolution will be found.”

Stoneyford ‘mistakes’ lead to PSNI discipline

Paul Butler

g  BY LAURA FRIEL

FOUR PSNI officers have been disciplined following a probe by the Police Ombudsman into the failure to investigate sectarian intimidation in Stoneyford, County Antrim.
The Ombudsman upheld complaints by Catholic residents that the PSNI had not investigated sectarian attacks in the County Antrim village properly.
In a letter, Ombudsman investigator Steve Skerratt admitted “a number of failings were identified” and as a result of the complaints “police officers have been disciplined, police processes have been evaluated and more rigorous procedures have been implemented”.
Describing the PSNI’s response to sectarian intimidation of Catholic residents as “disjointed and unfocused”, particularly in the past, Skerratt admitted “a number of mistakes were made by the police” and disciplinary action was recommended.
Following the Ombudsman’s recommendations, two PSNI officers were disciplined for failing to properly investigate complaints by a Catholic family who eventually fled the village after enduring four years of sectarian attacks.
Another two PSNI officers were disciplined after loyalists attacked Sinn Féin MLA Paul Butler in the village. Paul Butler, who is also a local councillor, was in Stoneyford with a film crew highlighting sectarianism within the village.
Welcoming the disciplining of PSNI officers, Paul Butler said the Police Ombudsman’s report was a glimmer of light at the end of a very long tunnel.
“Disciplining police officers for failing to do their duty is one thing but what is really needed is the PSNI doing its duty and protecting Stoneyford residents from sectarian intimidation by taking appropriate action against the perpetrators.
“The Ombudsman’s report shows there have been major failings in the policing operation in Stoneyford.
“The PSNI now needs to ensure that Catholics in the village are protected and can live free from sectarian intimidation.”
A Stoneyford resident whose complaint triggered the Ombudsman’s investigation said he is concerned that senior police officers escaped criticism.
“Where else in the world would you have ten families intimidated out of their homes and no one in authority held to account?
“The intimidation is ongoing. A Catholic home was attacked three weeks ago. Nothing has changed.”
For more than a decade, Catholic residents have been subjected to intimidation and violence at the hands of unionists linked to the paramilitary Orange Volunteers, an armed sectarian group which emerged in opposition to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
Yet, despite the fact that there have been over a hundred sectarian attacks against Stoneyford Catholics, not one single person has been charged or convicted in relation to the intimidation. The failure of the PSNI to pursue the assailants led many in the village to believe those responsible were immune from prosecution.
In April 1998, the Orange Volunteers murdered Catholic student Ciaran Heffron. A short time afterwards, several of its members were caught driving around Antrim with an automatic weapon. One of those arrested was Mark Harbinson, a resident of Stoneyford village.
In follow-up searches, a cache of weapons and explosives, together with the personal details of hundreds of nationalists, was discovered in Stoneyford Orange Hall. Harbinson was a keyholder at the time but inexplicably escaped prosecution.
Within the village, Harbinson remained a key figure behind a campaign of sectarian intimidation. Harbinson was behind setting up the Stoneyford Pride of the Village flute band which repeatedly held illegal parades past the homes of Catholic residents as well as issuing threats.
Many of those forced to flee named Harbinson to the PSNI as issuing threats personally. Such a threat was normally followed by attacks on their homes, cars and sometimes their children.
Shamefully, Harbinson has repeatedly enjoyed the support of the Orange Order and prominent local unionist politicians. In one incident, Lisburn Councillor Cecil Calvert, accompanied by Harbinson, disrupted a television interview with Sinn Féin’s Paul Butler who was being interviewed about the Police Ombudsman’s report.
Harbinson is currently in jail on unrelated charges.

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