4 JULY 1981 PRISONER STATEMENT
[Ed. note: On 30 June 1981, the British government through Humphrey Atkins, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, issued a statement on prison policy in Northern Ireland, saying that it would not grant special category status and would retain control of the prisons. This is the prisoners' response.]
We, the protesting republican prisoners in Long Kesh, having replied in short to H. Atkins' statement of 30 June, wish to expand our view of this statement.
1) The British government are responsible for the hunger strikes in Long Kesh. The ending of special category status was a political tactic used by the British government in its attempt to criminalise the republican attack on British imperialism in Ireland.
The existence of special legislation, special courts and special interrogation, plus the British administration's refusal to acknowledge a special category of prisoners, all contribute to the placing of the responsibility for this issue on that administration's shoulders.
Furthermore, the British government have had ample opportunities during the course of this issue to avoid the occurrence and recurrence of hunger strikes. The Cardinal O'Fiaich/N10 talks, and the refusal to honour the 18 December agreement, are prime examples of this.
2) Lord Gardiner, like so many other grit-appointed examiners, was sent to Ireland to do a specific job: to recommend the ending of special category status so that legal credibility could be attached to the criminalisation policy.
3) It is wrong for the British government to say that we are looking for differential treatment from other prisoners. We would warmly welcome the introduction of the five demands for all prisoners. Therefore, on this major point of British policy there is no sacrifice of principle involved.
4) We believe that the granting of the five demands to all prisoners would not in any way mean that the administration would be forfeiting control of the prison, nor would their say on prison activities be greatly diminished; but the prisoner could have his dignity restored and cease to occupy the role of establishment zombie.
5) The European Commission on Human Rights criticised the British government for being inflexible and for allowing such an impasse to develop. Flexibility is in not perpetuating protest but, rather, trying to remove or resolve the cause of dissent which foments such protest.
6) Mr Atkins outlines the present work routine under the title 'prison activity'. It is a crude system which Mr Atkins disguises with flowery jargon. Yet, it should not be a major point of contention between the administration and ourselves. What the British government recognises as 'prison work' we do not. Therefore, with goodwill, 'work' and the achieving of a compatible arrangement should be available without loss of principle. Besides self education, which would be the main prop in any agreement, we are prepared to maintain ourselves, wings, and Blocks and engage in any activity which we define as self-maintenance.
7) Mr Atkins is either misinformed or exaggerating the free association demand. Free association means that there would be freedom of movement within the wings. Supervision need not be restricted. That is a matter for the regime's discretion. There would be no interference with prison officers, who would maintain their supervisory role. It must be remembered that H-Blocks are control units, and each wing is built to accommodate 25 prisoners. So it is rather a red herring to speak of the regime losing control of the prison if the prisoners had freedom of the wing.
Equally, it is misleading to quote figures of 100 prisoners presumably associating together. We believe there should be wing visits but we do not envisage ourselves (although Mr Atkins does) running around the Block as we please in large numbers.
It is unrealistic to expect loyalists and republicans to integrate satisfactorily together. Forced integration, or the deliberate creation of a confrontation between those who bear arms in respect of their highly conflicting political ideologies, is wrong and can only lead to trouble. Even Mr Paisley recognised this fact several years back.
If studied carefully it will be seen that our definition of free association is far removed from what seems to be Mr Atkins'.
8) Prison clothes are prison clothes. It is illusory to minimise the wearing of prison clothes to half the week. Prisoners, like everyone else, sleep, and for most of the other half are forced to wear prison clothes. The women in Armagh wear their own clothes, and there is no objective reason why all prisoners should not be allowed to wear their own clothes.
9) If we accept that toiletries, and to a lesser extent reading material are essential, then the weekly parcel amounts to 4lbs of fruit. That speaks for itself.
10) Lost remission is a result of the protest and is not connected with the cause of it. As the British government says, the machinery exists to reclaim it - yet, for some reason the British government is being ambiguous on this matter, What constitutes a 'subsequent good behaviour period'? What does one-fifth return of remission mean?
This should not be an area of disagreement, for it does not directly affect the running of the system. But it is of mutual benefit to all whom it affects that full remission is given back to we prisoners.
In giving our views on what Mr Atkins said, we have outlined what should be the basis of a solution, without loss of principle to either side in this conflict.
It could well be that Mr Atkins has been misinformed about our demands. It certainly appears from his 30 June statement that this is so. We ask all parties involved to study this statement closely. We particularly ask the British to study it. It should not be taken lightly.
By asking the British administration to come in to discuss a resolution we ask nothing unreasonable. It is common for officials from that administration to visit this prison and converse with prisoners. It has been done before.
Comrades of ours have died and eight of our other comrades presently face death on hunger strike. Our people on the outside have died and more may die. That is why we seek immediate talks with the British administration to seek a solution to the H-Block protests. lt is a reasonable request.