Belfast Telegraph

Unease as paramilitary segregation in jail looms
Officers at Maghaberry unhappy over move

By Ben Lowry at Maghaberry Prison

11 December 2003
PRISON officers in Northern Ireland are far from happy at plans to segregate loyalist and republican prisoners, the head of the Prison Service said today.

Peter Russell's frank assessment of staff sentiment came in remarks this morning, during a preview of the newly refurbished blocks to segregate the two rival groups at Maghaberry.

"The service has very mixed feelings about this," said the director-general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Around 60 loyalist and republican prisoners are due to be separated into two units at the prison in February.

Some £7m has been spent on preparing the two blocks, Roe House and Bush House, which were temporarily opened to the media today.

The prisoners will be accommodated in single cells, with their own televisions. The blocks will contain a communal room with pool tables and cardiovascular machines.

"Prison staff are not enthusiastic about the decision to segregate. The integrated regime was working well," Mr Russell said.

The prison chief sidestepped questions about his own personal feelings with regard to the new plans.

"We have to manage the system that we have got," he said.

The decision to separate republican and loyalist prisoners was taken in September, when the Government accepted the findings of the Steele Review.

The review, which followed months of so-called dirty protests and rooftop demonstrations, recommended segregation.

Prison officers are thought to feel that segregation is the first step towards paramilitaries gaining control of their own areas at Maghaberry, as they did at the Maze.

The Steele review is thought to have caused surprise and anger among staff.

One senior officer said today: "The professional advice was against this." But Mr Russell insisted today that the paramilitaries will not be allowed to gain control.

"Both the brief from the Secretary of State, and the basis on which we are devising arrangements, is that staff will remain in control."

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