Top loyalist Ken Wilkinson and UUP at odds over call to halt segregation of prisoners in Maghaberry jail
Ending the separation of prisoners in Maghaberry is a recipe for disaster, a loyalist spokesman has warned.
PUP man Ken Wilkinson hit out last night after it emerged Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie is planning to ask Stormont to agree to phase out the current separation regime.
There are around 40 dissident republicans kept separately at Roe House and an estimated 30 loyalists at Bush House within the Maghaberry complex.
There are also a number of LVF-affiliated prisoners kept within the mainstream prison population.
Mr Beattie has called for the system of separation to be phased out, moving towards a fully integrated regime by 2026.
The Upper Bann MLA said all prisoners are criminals and should be treated the same.
He will introduce a debate on the matter at Stormont today.
A Sinn Fein spokesman said it plans to propose an amendment to Mr Beattie's motion, but would not share the wording last night.
Speaking ahead of the debate Mr Beattie said: "There is no question that Maghaberry is a unique prison, holding a number of prisoners in separated wings who have been convicted of paramilitary/terrorist type offences.
"A key question is that, 22 years on from the ceasefires and 18 years on from the Belfast Agreement, should we still be perpetuating the type of prison regime that existed during the Troubles?"
He continued: "It is quite clear that there are some in our society who are not willing to accept that the people of Northern Ireland want to live in a normalised society and they do not want to see guns on our streets. Whether you package them as paramilitaries, drug dealers or organised crime gangs, the truth is they are nothing more than criminals and must be treated as such."
Some of those currently held separately in Roe House include Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton, who were convicted of the murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll.
Bush House includes Milltown assassin Michael Stone and UVF killer Steven "Revels" Brown. Mr Wilkinson said proposing such prisoners be integrated is a "massive mistake". "It was agreed in 2004 to separate prisoners - we never want to go down the road of paramilitary wings, but these separated wings were set up on the principles of health and safety," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"If the likes of me went in there and it was not separated, I wouldn't last a day, given the people I speak for. This proposal is a recipe for disaster. I would be totally and utterly opposed to it."
However, Mr Beattie said no prisoners should be treated any differently. "It is time to get serious and show that we as an Assembly and a society mean business," he said.
"What political motivation lay behind the murders of Michael McGibbon in Ardoyne in April of this year or Joe Reilly in Poleglass last Thursday night? What cause was advanced, save that of spreading fear, terror and misery?
"It is time to stand up and say, these murders are the work of criminals who deserve no special status.
"No other country in Europe would tolerate this situation and that is why, on Monday, I shall be asking the Assembly to call on the Justice Minister to move to a fully integrated regime by 2026."
Justice Minister Claire Sugden agreed that integration was generally best. "However, whilst integration is ideal, it is clear that there are prisoners who will not integrate and equally clear that if they are forced to do so, that can have a serious and disruptive impact effect on good order, discipline and security of the prison as a whole," she said.