Northern Ireland

Maghaberry Prison: Ford says inmates must help ease tensions

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Media captionA bomb disposal robot at the Maghaberry prison security alert

Inmates at Maghaberry Prison must accept their part in lowering tensions by ending intimidation of jail staff, Justice Minister David Ford has said.

He was speaking following an incident involving at least 40 dissident republican inmates at the jail.

Prison management withdrew staff from the landings in Roe House which contain dissidents. However, the prisoners later returned to their cells.

Mr Ford rejected claims that an inmate had been seriously injured.

Visits to inmates were cancelled on Tuesday because of a security alert outside the perimeter of the prison.

Police were sent to the scene following a telephone bomb warning.

The security alert ended on Tuesday afternoon after a search found nothing.

No buildings were evacuated during the security operation.

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Image caption The security alert on Tuesday meant that visits to prisoners were cancelled

It is understood that during the incident on Monday, prison service management withdrew staff from Roe House landings because of verbal abuse and threats from dissident inmates.

A protest, involving about 200 people, took place outside the prison in support of the republican prisoners.

At one stage some of the protesters attacked the car of a prison officer arriving for work.

A group that represents some of the dissident republican inmates has claimed the increased tensions were because of the failure to implement independent recommendations, including an agreement to relax security measures from August 2010.

'Intimidation'

Mandy Duffy of the Irish Republican Prisoners' Welfare Association said the situation is "very tense".

"Last night was a demonstration of anger in republican communities," she said.

Mr Ford said prisoners must "live up to their side of the agreement to ensure that they end intimidation within Roe House and intimidation of prison officers through social media and with external activities as well".

"I will be getting a report on the incident yesterday as to what exactly happened and what lessons may be learned," he said.

"There are clearly issues from the agreement that was made almost five years ago that should see the prison running in a normal way, provided that there is appropriate behaviour on the part of prisoners.

"That is what is sadly lacking at the moment."

DUP assembly member Paul Givan said it was "an orchestrated attempt by republican prisoners so that they can get their demands met".

Maghaberry Prison is Northern Ireland's only high-security jail.

It houses men who have been convicted of serious offences as well as remand prisoners awaiting trial.

The inmates are held in both separated and integrated conditions.

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