Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Unionist MLA proposes the end of a separated prison regime at Maghaberry

Doug Beattie said all prisoners are criminals and should be treated the same.

An UIster Unionist MLA has proposed the end of the current system of separating political prisoners in Northern Ireland's prisons.

Currently political prisoners, Irish republicans and loyalists, are held separately from the rest of the prison population at Northern Ireland's biggest prison, HMP Maghaberry.

But now Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie has called for the separated system to be phased out.

He is set to bring a motion to the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday calling for an end of to the existing separated prison regime at HMP Maghaberry, and moving towards a fully integrated regime by 2026.

Sinn Fein are set to table an amendment to the motion.

Mr Beattie said all prisoners are criminals and should be treated the same.

"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," he said.

“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?

“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 include Brendan McConville and John Paul Wootton who were convicted of the murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll.

Mr Beattiie said they should not be treated any differently to the rest of the prison population at Maghaberry.

“It is time to get serious and show that we as an Assembly and a society mean business," he said.

"The people who murdered Constable Ronan Kerr in April 2011 are either “enemies of the people of Ireland” as the deputy First Minister said, or they are worthy of special treatment in prisons.

“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. The longer we perpetuate the separated regime, the more credibility we give these gangsters and murderers.

“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.”

A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: "Sinn Féin have submitted an amendment to this motion and will vote in support of our amendment when this debate comes to the floor."

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