Statement from Cogus POWs, Maghaberry Prison 25/05/2012
On the 1st July 2011 Cogus POWs in Maghaberry embarked upon a "Dirty-protest". We did so after
months of watching the Prison service and David Ford eroding the hard fought for 12th August
Agreement. Both had been warned for months that their actions or lack off would force the
prisoners hand and we urged the Prison service to work within the framework of the 12th August
It was a protest we didn't embark upon lightly as we knew that our actions would bear heavily on
our families, it would deflect republicans from the overall struggle outside and would have a
physical and emotional impact on ourselves. However to do nothing would have put republican
prisoners conditions in a deplorable situation, so with the sacrifices of republican prisoners before
us as a beacon, we began a new stage in prison struggle.
The Crux of our angst is the deliberate misrepresentation of the 12th August agreement by the NIPS
and the failure of the DOJ and its head David Ford to face down the naysayers, who are reluctant to
penal reform and change simply because republican prisoners are the lightning rods of that
proposed change. Republican POWs believed that strip-searching and controlled movement was
fully addressed in the August 2011 agreement. Sadly rather than embracing the opportunities of the
agreement and taking the opportunity to show pragmatism, the NIPS reverted back to their usual
dogmatic and rigid policies.
When it was clear that POWs and the DOJ/NIPS were at loggerheads over strip-searching and
controlled movement, as it had been pointed out to them on numerous occasions during the circular
conversations that passed as the new "forum". The POWs showed vision and a willingness to
promote the agreement and to iron out issues of contention. On the issue of strip-searching pows
offered to strip down to their underwear and shake their own under garments, this was the standard
and accepted approach to strip-searching in Long Kesh right up to the point of closure in 2000. This
proposal was rejected by the prison service that embarked upon a regime of brutal and sexually
degrading strip searches of passive republican prisoners.
We began to passively refuse to co-operate with strip-searches while entering and exiting
Maghaberry, the response from the prison service was to send a full riot unit into the cells holding
us waiting to attend court or hospital. We were charged and pinned to the wall with a shield, then
dragged to the floor by screws in full riot gear at all times they applied their knuckles behind our
ears as pressure points and twisted our arms and hands into painful locks. They ripped our clothes
and underpants from our bodies and then after searching them, through them back at us and exited
the cell laughing. This is what David Ford; the so called champion of human rights turns a blind eye
to in "his prison".
Ten months into the "dirty-protest" has seen our health suffer badly as our protest continues.
Our cells have lost all natural light as the walls and ceilings are covered in excrement, we are on 23
hour lockup and have to eat and sleep in our own waste. We suffer infections and some men have
needed hospital treatment. Our cells are hosed down every six weeks and we are returned to our
cells, the process for us starts over again, our long hair and beards are a public testament to
Maghaberry visitors that all isn't well in the "North's most modern and secure prison"
Ten months into our protests and our refusal to co-operate with strip-searches seen David Ford
finally accept what we and others had been saying all along. That technology existed that made
strip-searching for the most part redundant in prisons. He accepted a recommendation from Dame
Anne Owers to explore alternatives to "full body searching". Over one and a half million pounds
has been spent by the NIPS managing the republican prisoners protest, months of hardship and
relationships destroyed in the short to medium term that could have been avoided with common
sense and a desire to have a harmonised regime in Roe House.
On the 3rd May 2012 David Ford announced that he was introducing a pilot scheme of two x-ray
style machines in Hydebank wood prison and in Magilligan prison. He didn't say how long the pilot
scheme would last or how quickly if accepted it could be installed in Maghaberry. When pushed on
this issue Ford has been deliberately vague and ambiguous. There is no doubting that we as
protesting POWs have won the argument on the futility of strip-searching in modern times.
However without a clear time-line or tight framework to work from our efforts could be placed on
the notorious back-burner that exists within Maghaberry and our forced strip-searching and
controlled movement would be left back in the hands of the NIPS, that is a position we will never
In an effort to defuse tensions and to allow space to watch developments in the pilot scheme, Cogus
pows through the independent facilitators informed the NIPS on the 7th May 2012, that if they
suspended all strip-searches across Maghaberry (as they had done for eight weeks after the 12th
august agreement to allow time to install the boss-chair) That Cogus pows would suspend their
protest. This offer was refused. On Thursday 10th May 2012 Cogus pows again offered to suspend
the protest if the prison service would agree to pows coming down to their under-pants and shaking
them ourselves, the prison service response was to offer not to have the search team forcibly strip us
and that two prison officers in standard uniform would remove our clothing and that we would pull
our underpants elastic out and allow a screw to look down.
We have been attacked and degraded by thugs in uniforms for almost one year now, we would not
allow ourselves to be criminalised nor would we allow ourselves to be humiliated with their "latest
offer" it was flatly rejected. No one can say that republican prisoners haven't shown pragmatism or
vision, we have no desire to be on protest for protest sake, however as we have shown in this
communication, NIPS intransigence is fully to blame for the situation that prevails in Maghaberry
On Thursday 23th May 2012 Cogus pows have increased our protest, we slopped out onto the
landings as the screws opened up for the morning unlock, the response has been to bring in extra
cleaning materials and the screws have spread cat litter all over the landings, we intend in the
coming weeks to enhance our protest further, if the NIPS believe that dialogue was or is a sign of
weakness our actions now will show them that rather than burning out the protest, our intentions is
to increase it.
The Door isn't shut however and if the prison service or Ford is serious about progress they need to
act! Not talk! To show their sincerity in moving out of prison conflict.
Can we finish by thanking our families and supporters for your unswerving support, without it our
struggle would be impossible
Signed Cogus POW rep