Belfast Telegraph

Fury at rise in hostage stand-offs in Northern Ireland prisons

By Noel McAdam

A dramatic rise in prisoners taking fellow inmates hostage in Northern Ireland’s jails has prompted fears the authorities are losing control.

Six hostage stand-offs have taken place in the last few months — compared to just eight over the previous five years.

And almost all the hostage-taking situations occurred at Maghaberry, near Lisburn, where all visits have been cancelled this weekend due to a dissident republican protest.

Hardline unionist Jim Allister, who uncovered the statistics, voiced concern that there was little publicity over the incidents.

He demanded Justice Minister David Ford come to the Assembly to explain the sudden increase.

The TUV leader said the upsurge in hostage situations “speaks of a disturbing level of lawlessness.”

He added: “How, in an adequately run prison, can such happen? Is there a loss of control, contributed to by the demoralising of staff the plans to jettison many of them under the guise of prison reform? It doesn't say much for local control that under Minister Ford this problem has escalated unacceptably.”

In a written Assembly answer to North Antrim MLA Mr Allister, Mr Ford said: “All of the incidents involved a prisoner taking another prisoner hostage.”

The Prison Service described the incidents as “prisoner on prisoner” episodes, suggesting they were unconnected, and confirmed no prison staff or inmates had been seriously hurt.

A Prisons Service spokesman said: “There were six prisoner on prisoner incidents in the last year which presented as potential hostage situations.

“Staff intervened in all cases to resolve incidents without serious injury to staff or prisoners.”

Meanwhile, visits to Maghaberry today and tomorrow have been cancelled due to a republican protest outside the gates.

According to the Prison Service, “arrangements will be made to reschedule all cancelled visits”.

Background

Maghaberry Prison was opened in 1986 and currently holds around 850 prisoners. The male prison became fully operational in November 1987.

Two new accommodation blocks were opened in 1999.

In recent months it has come under fire from republicans, protesting over conditions at the high security prison in Lisburn. In 2010 dissident republican prisoners held a four-month protest over conditions in the jail.

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