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Papers reveal dirty protest rows

The escalation of the Republican ‘dirty protest’ in the H blocks and the concern it caused the British government is detailed in files just released under the 30-year rule.

Throughout 1978, the protest intensified as prisoners demanded the restoration of their “special status”, abolished in 1976.

But the British Government was determined to stand firm.

The crisis reached a new level on August 1, 1978 with a high profile visit to the Maze by the Primate of All-Ireland Archbishop Tomas O’Fiaich who branded conditions there as “inhuman”.

Archbishop O Fiaich argued that, contrary to the British Government’s contention, these prisoners were “in a different category to the ordinary”.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) expressed surprise at Archbishop O Fiaich’s statement and reiterated the Government’s determination to “stand firm in its policy on Special Category status”.

In May Bishop Edward Daly of Derry had written to the NIO proposing a form of ‘emergency status’ as a possible solution to the problem.

But NIO Junior Minister Don Concannon ruled this out.

Emergency status, in the British government’s view, seemed to imply an amnesty at some stage.

This option had been firmly rejected by the Secretary of State, Roy Mason.

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