Trio charged over jail protest at Alliance’s HQ
Two men have been charged after they barricaded themselves inside Alliance Party headquarters in south Belfast in protest at conditions for republican prisoners at Maghaberry.
The men, aged 34 and 35, were charged with behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace. A 16-year-old youth, who was outside the building, was also charged with disorderly behaviour and obstructing police. All three will appear in court on September 7.
Two members of Republican Network for Unity (RNU) walked into the building on University Street at 9am yesterday and demanded a meeting with Justice Minister and Alliance Party leader David Ford.
When they were refused, the men posted notices in the office window stating ‘End Strip Searches’. They handcuffed themselves to the furniture and refused to leave.
One of the men, Ciaran Cunningham, a former republican prisoner and RNU’s prisons spokesman, was removed from the building by police.
He was wearing a white T-shirt with the slogan ‘Ford Can End Strip Searching’. As he was led into a police vehicle, Mr Cunningham shouted “stop strip searches”.
A minor scuffle broke out as members of the RNU waiting outside the building blocked the police Land Rover that was parked on the footpath. Officers asked a young man blocking the vehicle to move and when he resisted he was pushed to the ground and handcuffed. The 16-year-old was then arrested. The Justice Minister later condemned the protest saying the men had “conned their way in pretending to seek advice”.
Republican Network for Unity claims that the Justice Minister has reneged on a deal over strip searches in Maghaberry.
Following talks last August, an agreement was reached to end random full-body searching before domestic and legal visits.
However, the Prison Service reserved the right, in exceptional cases, to require any prisoner to undergo a full-body search.
There has been a long-standing row between prison authorities and dissident republicans over prison conditions at Maghaberry. Dissident republican prisoners have demanded an end to strip searches in Maghaberry jail. Last August, following talks between the NI Prison Service and inmates, an agreement was reached to end random full-body searching before domestic and legal visits. However, the RNU claims Justice Minister David Ford has reneged on this agreement. As a result, some inmates have been involved in a ‘dirty’ protest.
Dispute getting personal for Ford
By Brian Rowan
This is another example of how jail protests begin to play out on the outside.
These things never stay behind bars.
The news that dissidents from the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) had taken over the Alliance Party’s offices came in a call to my mobile just after 10am yesterday.
The information was matter-of-fact. Protesters had barricaded themselves in and were demanding “an audience” with Justice Minister David Ford to highlight “concerns around the prison regime at Maghaberry”.
I later asked Carl Reilly of RNU if they were trying to personalise the protest with this focus on the Alliance leader.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “It’s not personal whatsoever.
“It’s about getting David Ford to focus his attention on where it should be. He is the minister responsible.”
Earlier this week prisoners ended a time-limited hunger strike — another protest designed to gather attention.
The big issue is strip searches, but the Justice Minister has insisted that this is an essential part of security, not just here, but across the UK’s jails.
And, so, there is a stand-off that has implications both inside and outside the prison.