Jailing extremists together 'will repeat error made in Northern Ireland'
MLA Doug Beattie has urged Westminster to separate jailed Islamic extremists and not repeat the mistakes seen here, where imprisoned members of terror groups were held together.
Justice Secretary Liz Truss said lessons had been learned from the Maze and Maghaberry Prisons, which became hothouses for terrorists. To this day republican prisoners have their own wing at Maghaberry.
But Ulster Unionist Mr Beattie, a decorated soldier who fought the Taliban in Afghanistan, warned the Government that it was in danger of making the same mistakes it made here.
He added that a failure to separate Islamic extremists could lead to prison officers being attacked by radicalised Muslims.
Ms Truss confirmed that specialist isolation units to hold the most dangerous prisoners would be created in high-security jails in Britain.
"We have looked at what happened in Northern Ireland and at the experience of other European countries who are facing a growth in the threat of extremism, as we are in Britain," the minister said.
A new Ministry of Justice directorate will be handed responsibility for ensuring that grouping extremists together in single units does not end in them creating their own command structures, as happened here.
"It will be the responsibility of the head of that directorate, who is a former prison governor, to make sure that we don't allow prisoners who could potentially collaborate with each other and cause problems (to do that)," Ms Truss told the BBC.
"We don't want to allow that to fester, so people will be moved around and that will be an operational decision by the people who are the experts in dealing with counter-extremism."
But Mr Beattie claimed the decision to segregate Islamist extremist prisoners showed a dangerous "failure to learn lessons from the past".
"There are quick gains from keeping all like-minded extremists in one place, preventing the spreading of their message to other prisoners and providing easy monitoring for intelligence purposes," he explained.
"However, this type of segregation and separation gives those same prisoners a collective voice, an identity and a centre of gravity.
"Experience tells us that it will be used by those outside the prisons - family, friends and supporters - as a rallying cry for others to support this new-found Islamist extremist identity, and that in turn will lead to other acts of violence perpetrated by those supporters."
Mr Beattie claimed there were suspicions that dissident republican prisoners had directed terrorism from inside Maghaberry.
He said he felt that radicalised Muslim prisoners could be dealt with by spreading them across different jails, rather than concentrating them in one place.
"Those same issues which we now see here in Northern Ireland will be replicated in Great Britain," Mr Beattie warned.
"My fear would be that, with the creation of a group of prisoners with a new identity, tensions could very well spill onto the streets of Great Britain, and that prison officers could see themselves targeted, as they are here in Northern Ireland."