Doug Beattie and the Campaign to Criminalise Republican Prisoners

Following another call by Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie for the criminalisation of Republican Prisoners (this time to the British imposed secretary of state) we republish an article from 2016 which addressed a similar call.  

Doug Beattie UUP MLA for Upper Bann and former British Soldier has called for the intensification of the British criminalisation of Irish Republican Prisoners, by ending the separation regime that sees Irish Republican Prisoners and Loyalist Prisoners housed in Roe House and Bush House respectively in Maghaberry Gaol. Doug states, “all Prisoners are criminals and should be treated the same”, continuing with the usual hardline unionist rhetoric “whether you package them as paramilitaries, drug dealers or organised crime gangs, the truth is they are nothing more than criminals and should be treated as such”.

Doug will table a motion in Stormont on Monday calling for the separated regime in Maghaberry to be phased out by 2026. In a clear lack of knowledge on the subject, the Ulster Unionist MLA seemed to believe that the current separated regime that Loyalist and Republican Prisoners are housed under was somehow being “perpetuated from the Troubles”.

De Facto special category status enjoyed by Republican prisoners, won through years of hardship on the blanket and on hunger strike, was, with the stroke of a pen, signed away as part of the 1998 Belfast Agreement. Following this watershed, any Republicans who were incarcerated by the British state found themselves in open prison population surrounded by criminals and Loyalists. At the turn of the century, Irish Republican Prisoners began a long and sustained campaign inside Maghaberry for segregation. The campaign, which included a dirty protest and active disruption to the prison regime supported on the outside with active street protests, eventually crippled the ability of Maghaberry to function normally. It brought with it publicity highlighting that there was still Republican prisoners struggling for political status, despite the international perception that the conflict had ended in 1998.

In 2003 the Steele report recommended that Republican and Loyalist Prisoners be housed separately from the normal prison population under the ‘compact’ a separated regime in both Roe and Bush houses was created and set up by the British Government in 2003. The separated prisoners then faced a far more draconian regime than what existed in the rest of the jail. Since then over a decade of protest has taken place against issues such as strip searches, controlled movement and isolation.

It must be pointed out to Mr Beattie that the Stormont Assembly has no power over the running of the Republican separated regime. The British Government was very explicit when devolving so-called justice powers to Stormont that Irish Republicans would be outside its remit. It seems Britain liked to deal directly with those who continued to oppose its rule in the north of Ireland. Prisoners who request to be housed in Republican Roe House are either accepted or denied by the British Secretary of State. All issues relating to the Republican wing on Roe House is taken outside of the so-called devolved institutions.

MI5 and British Special Forces were tasked officially via the St Andrews agreement to target exclusively Irish Republicans utilising a raft of special powers and draconian legislation, ( See the CAJ report ‘The policing you don’t see’). This in itself refutes Doug Beattie’s assertions that separated prisoners are “common criminals and should be treated as such”, indeed many who have been imprisoned in Roe House have been the target of internment by remand, where months or years are spent imprisoned only for the case never to make it to court or for the trial to collapse shortly after it starts. Will Doug Beattie be putting forward a motion for the normalisation of legislation for the ending of no jury courts and an end to the use of MI5 and British special forces? We think not. Doug will continue to raise these types of issues rather than deal with the poverty and social deprivation his party and Stormont pour on his constituents in Upper Bann under the guise of austerity.

Doug speaks of gunmen, criminals and drug dealers and he should be well versed on this, as a youth, he shot his best friend in the head with his father’s pistol, then joined the British Army as a gunman for imperialism where he helped protect the opium-producing poppy fields in the failed Afghanistan War. We point out that the oppression of Republican Prisoners breeds resistance. Republican prisoners maintain that they want to live in a conflict-free environment within Maghaberry with dignity, but we are sure any regressive measures that the state tries to impose on Republican Prisoners will be faced down and defeated as they have been in the past. Have the unionists learned nothing from 1981 and subsequent gaol struggles?

Unfortunately, Doug Beattie likes to shoot first and ask questions afterwards as his boyhood friend and the Afghan people know only too well.

This article was originally published in October in 2016

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