From NIO

On the fourth of December the Government set out clearly what is available to all prisoners in Northern Ireland prisons.

2. We hoped that this would bring an end to the protests. Two more weeks have passed. The protests continue. Those on hunger strike are two weeks nearer death.

3. Their demand for political status is not going to be granted. The European Commission of Human Rights has considered the case made to it by the protesters for political status, and has rejected it. The Commission asked the Government to keep the humanitarian aspects of the prison regime under continuing review. The Government responded positively to that request with the changes on nine specific points which I set forth in detail in my statement to the House of Commons on 4 December. It is our concern that these protests and the hunger strike should not lead to pointless deaths. To the protesters and those on hunger strike I want to say:

"There is no reason to go on. The Government has made its response. I want to spell out for you and your families what will happen when the protests end."

4. First of all, any such prisoner will be put into a clean cell. If, as I hope, all prisoners end their protests, we shall have the task of cleaning up all the cells right away and this would take a week or ten days.

5. Within a few days clothing provided by their families will be given to any prisoners giving up their protest so that they can wear it during recreation, association and visits. As soon as possible all prisoners will be issued with civilian-type clothing for wear during the working day. From then on, as I said in October, denim prison uniform becomes a thing of the past for all prisoners.

6. They will also immediately become entitled every month to eight letters, four parcels and four visits.

7. Prisoners who end their protest will be able to associate within each wing of the prison blocks in the evening and at week-ends. If large groups of prisoners cease their protest simultaneously, a few days may be needed for cleaning up.

8. We want to work out for every prisoner the kinds of available activity which we think suit him best - work (including of course the work of servicing the prison itself), vocational training and educational training. Again if groups of prisoners come off the protest together, getting this programme organised will take some time.

9. On the question of remission - and this will be of special importance to the prisoners' families - provision already exists for lost remission to be restored after subsequent good behaviour. We shall immediately start reviewing each case individually.

10. We do not want any prisoners to die: but if they persist in their hunger strike they will not be forcibly fed. If they die, it will be from their own choice. If they choose to live, the conditions available to them meet in a practical and humane way the kind of things they have been asking for. But we shall not let the way we run the prisons be determined by hunger strikes or any other threat.

11. Northern Ireland prisons are acknowledged to include some of the best in the United Kingdom. The boards of visitors will continue to play their part in maintaining this position. For our part we will, subject to the overriding requirements of security, keep prison conditions - and that includes clothing, work, association, education, training and remission - under continuing review.

12. It is the Government's earnest wish that, in the light of these possibilities, all prisoners now protesting in one form or another will bring their protest to an end. In particular, those on hunger strike have nothing to gain by fasting to death. The time to stop is now.

Northern Ireland Office
18 December 1980

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