28/06/2010

Republican Hunger Striker 'Rewarded'

Lobbying on behalf of a dissident republican who ended a 42-day hunger strike last month has paid off - with his 'demands' being met.

But the news that Liam Hannaway - who is a relative of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams - had been moved to the mainstream prison at the high security Maghaberry prison is being kept very low key.

The prisoner was previously being held in a vulnerable prisoners' unit for his own protection - rather than on a wing with other dissidents as the prison authorities believed his life would be in danger if he were moved to the republican wing.

Now, amidst a flurry of other problems for NI Prisons' regime a Prisons Press and Communications Unit spokeswoman said: "I can confirm that Mr Hannaway is now being located in the general prison population."

In late May, he was placed under medical care inside the Co Antrim prison with his protest fast adding to growing pressure for a move - a request which have now quietly been granted after he has served almost two and a half years of a 10-year sentence for possessing explosives and ammunition.

A Prison spokesperson wouldn't give any detail this week of which section of Maghaberry the high profile west Belfast republican is now being held in - but it was hinted that the 'threat' to him had been from those outside, rather than within the facility itself - which implies he is being housed in the republican wing.

Four weeks ago, Sinn Féin Assembly member Raymond McCartney held a meeting with Justice Minister David Ford on the ongoing situation in Maghaberry prison - including Liam Hannaway's hunger strike.
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After the meeting that was due to be attended by Deputy First Minister Martin Guinness - who later pleaded another appointment - Mr McCartney said: "All of the republican groups in the prison have made it clear that there is no threat to Liam Hannaway if he is moved back into the segregated wing."

The ex-Maze Prison hunger striker and now MLA said: "It is my firm view that with the necessary political will all of these issues relating to Liam Hannaway, and indeed the wider problems in Roe House can be resolved."

That move has now taken place and coincides with last week's shock resignation by the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Robin Masefield that he intends to step down from his post before the end of this year.

There is also a background of controversies, which have afflicted the high security Maghaberry prison.

The most critical focused on the death of 34-year-old convicted murderer Colin Bell, who hanged himself in Maghaberry jail in 2008 despite being on 24-hour watch.

Investigators found that wardens who were supposed to be checking the high-risk inmate were lying on beds watching TV.

But only weeks after new governor Steve Rodford took charge another prisoner killed himself inside Maghaberry.

Medical unit staff were suspended from duty following a probe into the suicide of convicted sex offender John Anthony Deery, 50, who hanged himself in August 2009.

Then Mr Rodford, who was reforming the regime and had set about improving prisoner monitoring inside Maghaberry, left his post after only five months in office - over fears that he could be targeted by dissident republicans.

But just days afterwards, 10 prison service staff facing disciplinary charges following the suicide of the prisoner were all reinstated after appeals and two senior prison officers recommended for demotion also returned to their previous positions, with a formal warning.

(BMcC/GK)

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