Republicans attended a packed meeting in Conway Mill on Saturday, the following article came from Anthony McIntyre's, Pensive Quill.
The Concerned Families and Friends of the Maghaberry prisoners held a public meeting on Saturday 29th May, 2.00pm, at Conway Mill Belfast.
A panel to include human rights activists and legal experts outlined the conditions the men in Maghaberry are being forced to endure and a question and answer session followed for development of debate.
Chairing the proceedings was Maura McCrory, a veteran of the anti-H-Block/Armagh campaign who took to the streets in defence of prisoners rights with The Relatives Action Committee, in 1976.
Former hunger striker Gerard Hodgins and Maureen Fitzsimons, sister of prisoner Harry Fitzsimons, both spoke at the meeting. The text of their speeches follow.
Thirty years ago we engaged in a battle that was to have far reaching ramifications for us all. It was the longest and most painful battle of the war when Brendan Hughes forged the Blanketmen into a formidable fighting machine which established once and for all the political legitimacy of the Republican cause and the Republican prisoner. We didn’t fully know it at the time but we changed history. The cost was horrendous and the pain of that battle still wounds many of us. The memories will never leave us, nor can the knowledge that today the inheritors of that sacrifice sit in power in Stormont.
Why are former comrades who experienced the inside of a prison cell the same as many of us allowing this obscenity which is Maghaberry to happen? How can a joint First Minister not have the power to end this shameful situation in his prison? How can one half of the Stormont power bloc be powerless to intervene in Maghaberry prison? The thugs enforcing this regime of shame in Maghaberry are the very same thugs who beat Blanketmen and gloated at the deaths of hunger strikers: the Prison Officers Association.
The only change in the equation is that instead of serving a British government directly the POA are today serving our own locally elected government of which Sinn Fein makes up one half.
Sinn Fein have sat in silence over the years allowing the festering cess-pit of Maghaberry to deteriorate, to date they have expressed an interest in what is happening in Maghaberry, but we need more than an expression of interest from former comrades who know instinctively the fate of Republican prisoners in the British prison system, we need concrete action, we need massive change within the prison regime, we need a party with more spine than the imperialist lickspittle who similarly sat in silence while ten brave men died.
We demand the reintroduction of the regime that was implemented after the hunger strikes, we demand the reintroduction of a safe and humane environment where all prisoners can lead lives of dignity and purpose; and where even screws are saved from the debasement of being torturers.
What I and the rest of us demand is not an impossible dream, we are not asking for new avenues to be explored or opened up, we are not asking for risks to be taken. The things we demand are doable; it has all been done before at no risk to the security of the prison system and it could all be done again: today.
Things have moved on in the wake of the ceasefires, life may be more vibrant than ever in our towns and cities; but life is also still a nightmare existence for that small group of people the rest of society chooses to ignore and pretend doesn’t exist: the prisoners. For them, there is no new dispensation. For them there are only Oscar Wilde’s immortal words: every prison that men build is built with bricks of shame; and bound with bars lest Christ should see how men their brothers maim, Maghaberry prison is an institution built with bricks of shame, Maghaberry prison is bound with bars lest Christ should see how the screws our friends and relatives maim. Maghaberry prison has been shrouded in a veil of official silence – but no more.
We, together, will tear down the bricks of shame, we will expose the sadists of the POA to full public scrutiny and exposure of their cowardly deeds; we have exposed them for the liars they are in trying to tell us Maghaberry is a 5*hotel where the ungrateful fenians beat themselves up just to complain about it afterwards.
We, as a group, came together in the wake of the Easter mini-rising in Maghaberry and pledged to hit the streets, to agitate and campaign until the prisoners in Maghaberry get a proper and humane regime. We are of all political colours and no political colours; we are equally and unanimously and maturely committed to assisting the men in Maghaberry challenge and defeat the inhuman and degrading conditions being imposed upon them through the active aggression of the POA and the silent acquiescence of their political masters in Stormont.
We can all do this together. Go from here today and replicate what we have done here in Belfast across the country: bury your political differences and unite around one common goal, theme and objective: our prisoners. Let every county in this partitioned state organise and demand human rights for the prisoners; it doesn’t take a large, cumbersome structure or massive amounts of money to do: commitment and a belief in the justness of the prisoners’ cause are all that’s needed.
Do this, and we have even greater scope for coordinated actions if we need to seriously consider paralysing the normality of a sick state in order to make it sit up and listen.
Our prisoners deserve that, we owe them that and we owe it to the memory and integrity of our comrades who died that lonely death in 1981. Let a thousand prisoner support groups flourish from here today and let the Stormont ostriches know: we are not going away you know!
Victory to the prisoners.
My brother Harry Fitzsimons, is a prisoner in Maghaberry. Ironically, my brother is actually in Maghaberry for following orders. He does not want to be in Maghaberry, he wants to be home with his children and partner, and wider family circle; and we want him home with us.
My brother is not a criminal; he is not an animal to be caged and beaten; neither is he self-inflicting any type of harm or hardship upon himself just so he can complain about it later.
My brother, Harry, is the latest victim in a long line of tortured souls to fall under the attention of the screws in the British prison system in Ireland; yesterday it was the H-Blocks, today it is Maghaberry. His crime in their eyes is not that he has been sent to prison but that he is a catholic, a republican: a fenian! Human rights are non-existent in Maghaberry if you are a prisoner, they are completely non-existent if you are a Republican prisoner.
The revelation that all is not well in Maghaberry came as a shock to our family. We experienced the depth of bitterness that characterised the H-Block conflict, we lived through it; the daily reports of prisoners being beaten and the military repression inflicted upon our community as we stood in defiance in support of our prisoners, in defiance of Margaret Thatcher. We don’t want to go through all that again, but already there is a sense of déjà-vu.
We thought that we had seen the prison issue settled once and for all: ten men died lonely deaths of starvation in British prison cells to assert the right and the legitimacy of the Republican cause: it is a horrifying sacrifice we can never forget. But it is all reawakening as the Maghaberry screws diminish the gains and the penal reforms hard won by republican prisoners in the past.
Why are they allowed to get away with this? Why are one group of narrow-minded, unreconstructed sectarian bigots being allowed to drag us back into the past? Where are the voices of those in political power with the power to end this obscenity?
When we leave here today all I ask is that each of you remembers that our prisoners are being forced back into a H-Block-type regime, that our prisoners in Maghaberry are being brutalised. And remember them in your prayers.
Let your elected representatives know how you feel, how you feel that the nightmare of the darkest chapter in British penal policy in Ireland is being reawakened and reinvigorated in Maghaberry.
I know this, because my brother Harry is living that nightmare. I have had to endure watching him disappeared into the lonely isolation of Maghaberry, knowing that he had been beaten, knowing that the screws had chained him to a bed and cut the clothes off him, knowing that he was hurt and me unable to see him, to comfort him. We, his family were not allowed to see him, his solicitor was not even allowed to see him.
This is what the screws are doing. They are also barring immediate family from visiting prisoners. They are a law unto themselves and must be challenged and we are the ones who will mount that challenge on behalf of our prisoners.