Belfast Telegraph

Prison staff death threats unjustified

Sometimes it feels that Northern Ireland is trapped in a Groundhog Day when the terror of the past is replayed endlessly. Threats by a dissident republican group to target prison officers in a dispute over strip-searching in Magheraberry Prison is like some poisonous reprise of the darkest days of the Troubles when 29 officers were murdered by paramilitaries. Jails and the treatment of prisoners has long been a rallying point for republicans of all hues and it is evident that Oglaigh na hEireann is hoping that the tactic will again justify further acts of violence.

It must be clear to even the most fanatical dissidents that there is no public support for their continued acts of terrorism. Mainstream republicanism has moved far away from the violence of the past as evidenced by Martin McGuinness's call for no protests during the Queen's planned visit to the Republic later this year. Previous acts of terrorism by dissidents were roundly condemned by all sections of the community and there is no justification for the new threats against prison staff.

That said, there was an apparent agreement brokered over strip-searching at the jail and if it has not been implemented, it is a sore which should not be allowed to fester for any longer. The consequences could be disastrous if the dissidents do decide to target staff. While the prison regime here has been the target of much official criticism in a series of exhaustive reports, including claims that the way prisoners are treated is rooted in the past when the jails were packed with terrorists from both sides of the community, the failures go much deeper than the officers in charge of the cells.

Those responsible for making death threats against prison staff should withdraw them immediately and politicians should work to restore calm to the jails and resolve the problems. Prison officers do a dangerous job and there can never be any justification for putting their lives in further jeopardy.

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