IRA prisoner issue 'strains' Irish peace

August 18, 1995

As serious disturbances again erupted in Northern Ireland, a peace studies expert is warning that the fragile peace process is being put under needless strain by delays in the transfer of Irish terrorist prisoners from England to Northern Ireland.

Since 1992 prisoners have had the right to request a transfer to Northern Ireland but it was not until 1994 that the first prisoners were moved and 28 still remain in England. According to a paper released by Bradford University this is dangerous. "The combination of the Government dragging its feet on the implementation policy and the way in which prisoners have decided to protest against it has politicised the issue and is having an effect on the wider peace process," says Michael von Tangen Page of Bradford's department of peace studies.

Stoning, plastic bullets and petrol bombs hit the streets of Ulster following loyalist marches last weekend. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams warned that the IRA "hadn't gone away".

In his paper entitled Irish Republican Prisoners in England: An unnecessary impediment to peace Mr von Tangen Page warns that there has been considerable dissatisfaction among Irish Republican prisoners over the transfer issue.

Whitemoor Prison is currently the scene of a "dirty protest" where some inmates refuse to wear uniforms or use sanitary facilities. They are mainly protesting against the long delays between applying for a transfer, having it granted and actually being transferred.

The paper says: "The current policy was formulated for humanitarian reasons to allow prisoners to be close to their families while serving their sentences. However, neither the Government nor the Irish republicans are treating transfers as a humanitarian issue any more."

Mr von Tangen Page argues that risking an escalation of the issue - possibly leading to hunger strikes - is unnecessary and could be "catastrophic". He concludes: "The minor changes in sentence length a prisoner might receive by transferring from England to Northern Ireland should not be allowed to stall the peace process."

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