CAIN: Events - Hunger Strikes - Peter Robinson (1981) Self-Inflicted: An exposure of the H-Blocks Issue

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'Self-Inflicted - An exposure of the H-Blocks Issue' by Peter Robinson (1981)

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Text: Peter Robinson ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
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The following pamphlet has been contributed by permission of the author Peter Robinson. The views expressed in this book do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.

book cover These extracts are taken from the book:
An Exposure of the H-Blocks Issue

by Peter Robinson (1981)
Paperback 12pp Out of Print

Originally published in Belfast by the Democratic Unionist Party (1981)

This document is copyright Peter Robinson and is included on the CAIN site by permission of the author. You may not edit, adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than your personal use without the express written permission of the author. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

296 Albertbridge Road
Belfast BT5 4GX
Telephone (0232) 56418 & 56419

Dear Reader,

One could hardly be unaware of the situation at Her Majesty’s Maze Prison in Northern Ireland where 7 sentenced Republican Prisoners are presently on hunger strike and several hundred others are on a campaign called the "Dirty" protest. While the fact that this is happening may be known to you, the circumstances may not be so clear. In this booklet I have attempted to lay before the reader an account of these circumstances in perspective and demonstrate that the conditions under which the protestors exist, are self-imposed and self-inflicted.

I referred to an account "in perspective" because when considering this whole situation it is necessary to do so against the backcloth of over 2,000 people who have been murdered and more than 20,000 who have been maimed and mutilated during this present I.R.A. campaign. Perhaps, to help gain the right priority, the following lines could be read. They were penned by a young mother left a widow by the action of one of the "Dirty" protestors in the H-Blocks. These verses and an accompanying letter were sent anonymously to me by this sorrowing woman who simply signed herself — "One who has suffered".

The shattered body,
The mutilated head,
The torn off limbs,
The dying,
And the dead.
You’d think the world would care,
Would feel the pain.
It is not so,
Your agony in vain.
Revulsion there is,
An outcry far and wide.
No — not for those who’ve suffered,
Those who’ve died.
But for those men,
Who in their squalor lie
Those men who set the bomb,
Caused you to die.
Like animals they live,

But that’s their way.
Existing in their filthy degradation day by day.
And those who protest loudest
Shout aloud;
They have not seen your twisted face,
Nor touched your shroud.
They’ve never held a sobbing child
Who for her Daddy cries,
Nor seen an old man’s vacant stare,
Or heard his sighs.
How chilly and how dank the cells
Of those the world would save.
How desolate your empty chair —
How deadly cold your grave.
You’re yesterday’s lead story,
They’re todays, ‘till something new.
The world can weep for H Block —
I will weep for you.

I trust that you can take the time to read this booklet and be able to feel an affinity with the Ulster Community who have suffered for over a decade at the hands of terrorists. If you do, then perhaps the fallen have not died in vain and we, though often misunderstood and at times forgotten will not stand alone.

Yours sincerely.





Peter Robinson, M.P.

Cover photograph: The inside of an H-Block cell with the walls smeared by the inmate with his excrement.

As a rule, February evenings in Northern Ireland are cold and dark — the night of Wednesday 2nd February 1977 was no exception. That evening 58 year old Jeffrey Agate drove to his home at the close of an exhausting day. As the Works Director of the large American Du Pont Fibre Plant he had a lot of responsibilities and no doubt thoughts of his business commitments or perhaps the hope of a restful evening with his wife crossed his mind as he parked his car outside his Londonderry home. Whatever hopes Jeffrey Agate may have entertained for that February evening, they were cruelly, brutally and instantly dashed as he slumped to the ground in a pool of blood, the victim of an I.R.A. ‘hit’.

Only a few days earlier the same assassin who gunned Jeffrey Agate down callously murdered a young Roman Catholic R.U.C. Detective Constable. Patrick Liam McNaulty, a married man with a young family, was off-duty when the I.R.A. man pumped a hail of bullets through the window of his car which he was leaving into a garage near Londonderry to be serviced. The 30 year old policeman was killed instantly behind the wheel of his vehicle. The Roman Catholic Provisional I.R.A. proudly and publicly accepted responsibility for these killings, of which there have been over 2000 during the present campaign.

One of the two thousand victims.

The murderer of Jeffrey Agate and Patrick McNaulty was tracked down, questioned, later brought to Court where he was tried by due process of law, found guilty and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. The man found guilty, Raymond McCartney, and six of his fellow thugs, who like him are serving sentences in Her Majesty’s Prison Long Kesh, are on hunger strike. The hunger strikers are not taking this action to protest their innocence but because they believe they deserve to have special and privileged treatment, rather than be dealt with like common criminals.

Long Kesh Prison is on the outskirts of Belfast near Lisburn, tucked close by the Ml Motorway. Here under the warm glow of amber searchlights and otherwise surrounded by the delights of rural Ulster, a building complex and those occupying it have become the centre and object of great controversy. In such a quiet and pleasant setting it is hard to appreciate that the cause or excuse for militant propaganda and action could be found. Yet no matter on which side (for sides there are) of the argument one may be found it is an emotive issue upon which the eyes of the world are focused. The centre of attraction is a modern complex of temporary buildings used as a penal establishment known in Northern Ireland as Long Kesh or the Maze, but better known inside and outside Ulster by the name of the eight cellular accommodation units — THE H-BLOCKS.

Each unit was built at the cost of approximately £1 million with all cells at ground level. The buildings are in the shape of an ‘H’ with each leg of the ‘H’ having 25 cells plus washing facilities and a dining/recreation room. There are two classrooms in each unit plus a Medical Inspection room. Four tarmacadam recreation areas are attached to each unit and prisoners from the eight units have the use of two all-weather sports pitches and a communal £100,000 indoor sports hall. Prisoners at the Maze can also take advantage of training schemes and educational courses.

An architect's drawing of an H-Block.

Adjoining the H-Blocks are the ‘compounds’ where prisoners who received Political Status are imprisoned, if imprisonment it can be called. Political Status or as it is sometimes called "Special Category Status", was granted by the Rt. Hon. William Whitelaw in 1972 when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The benefits of ‘Political Status’ to the inmate include free association with other prisoners, permission to wear civilian clothes and no work requirement; indeed the system operates much on the lines of a prisoner of war camp with the prisoners freely parading and being further trained in the ‘arts’ of terrorism. The move in 1972 to grant such recognition was, and still is, rightly regarded as an act of folly and criticised widely throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. The granting of such status, for terrorist crimes, ceased after four years of existence though those who had received ‘Political Status’ for crimes committed before 1976 still receive the benefits of ‘Political Status’. The granting of ‘Political Status’ in 1972 was a surrender on the part of the British Government to an earlier hunger strike initiated by I.R.A. Prisoners. Under the I.R.A.’s blackmail Mr. Whitelaw caved in to their demands.

Therefore, there are two distinct types of accommodation, cellular blocks and compound facilities — the cellular blocks occupied by those prisoners convicted of terrorist offences which occurred after 1976 and the compounds containing the pre-1976 Prisoners who have ‘Political Status’. It is this distinction that is the root of the controversy. With 2000 people done to death by the Provisional I.R.A. and other less active terrorist groups, the inevitable result is the requirement for accommodation for those who, through the due process of law, are sentenced to imprisonment. The occupants of the H-Blocks — predominantly I.R.A. Members — believe themselves to be a cut above the ordinary common criminal; they claim their crimes were for a political motive and therefore they believe they should be given special treatment. This ignores the reality that the inmates of the H-Blocks are the perpetrators of some of the most heinous atrocities known to civilisation.

Innocent civilians, women, elderly and handicapped persons, children and even babies are numbered amongst their victims. If the I.R.A.’s crimes are in a special category and deserve different treatment then clearly it should not be a more lenient or relaxed existence that should be the alternative. After all it does take a special type of "hero" to carry out a fire bomb attack on an hotel full of people.

Many would argue, and I among them, that if the British Government, being directly responsible for the Government of Northern Ireland (which is, and wishes to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom), had the moral resolve they would introduce tougher sentences, more befitting the crimes committed.

The I.R.A. prisoners and their propagandists would try to argue that as the I.R.A. are at war with ‘the Brits’ they should be accorded the status reserved for prisoners of war. The distinction must immediately be drawn between a "conventional war" and a "terrorist war". In a "conventional war" between states, the adversaries meet in open conflict, whereas the terrorist finds refuge in the cowardly practices of leaving bombs in crowded streets, sniping at passers-by or doorstep killings of defenceless individuals — essentially the terrorist is a bullet-in-the-back operator.

Another victim of a doorstep killing.

The terrorist is in every respect a murderer and not a soldier. By definition his cause is that of a tiny minority determined by violence to over-ride the wishes of the majority. His cause is not the cause of the people; it is a cause contrary to the people.

Terrorists in Northern Ireland are not caught and imprisoned without trial as in a "conventional war". Instead they are brought before an open court, tried and if found guilty, sentenced and duly imprisoned. Society properly deals with them like the low and common criminals they are.

This is what the bombers did

To a human being

The action of a special type of "hero" - the remains of one of the twelve people
killed at the La-Mon House Hotel when a bomb exploded without warning.

The I.R.A. propagandists would try to allege that the criminals in the H-Blocks have been convicted by induced admission statements and an unjust court system.

Nothing could be further from the truth and an examination of the actual facts exposes such an allegation as totally unsubstantiated in law or fact.

The due process of the law is vigorously observed. Cautions and notices of the suspects’ rights are correctly given and strict procedural rules must be followed by the Police to the extent that virtually every movement of a prisoner in custody must be recorded, from eating a biscuit to the exercise of his bodily functions.

The whole area of law relating to defendants’ statements is entirely geared towards the defendant. Prior to the trial, the defendant has only to raise a prima facie case that his statement was not made voluntarily and the Prosecution are then faced with the daunting task of clearing difficult legal hurdles. They must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that the statement was made voluntarily, and not induced by torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. If the Prosecution fail to overcome these obstacles then the defendant will walk free from the Court.

It is patently obvious that the legal system is thoroughly designed to guard against wrongful and unjust convictions and its success is apparent by the relative absence of appeals against conviction. It must therefore be concluded that the overriding aims of justice, due process and fairness have been consistently regarded and adhered to, contrary to the distorted and completely ill-founded claims of Republican propagandists.

In earlier paragraphs I described the modern and costly institution in which these prisoners are held. It is amongst the most modern in Europe and the conditions that the H-Block inmate is offered would be the envy of a great many prisoners in other jails throughout the world. Yet how does this relate to the H-Blocks propaganda which depicts hundreds of poor, wretched and unfortunate individuals wrapped only in a blanket and living in appalling conditions without recreation or other facilities.

The accommodation offered to the H-Block inmates (see front cover
for the way the Republican prisoner on the Dirty protest treats his cell).

In pursuit of their demand for privileged treatment about 350 of the H-Block prisoners are refusing to conform to prison regulations. They refuse to wear the prison clothes offered to them; instead, they choose of their own free will to wrap themselves in their prison blankets. The campaign is called the ‘Dirty’ protest and whoever so named it was a master of under-statement. If cleanliness is next to godliness then to whom are these men close? The prisoners refuse to work or wash; to shave or cut their hair; they refuse to use the toilets available preferring instead to smear their own excreta across walls and ceilings; they deliberately destroy all the furniture in their cells and smash the cell windows; they decline to exercise or make use of the library facilities choosing instead to rip up Bibles and religious magazines. Having done all this they then blame and condemn the authorities for the conditions under which they are imprisoned.

Is it surprising then that sympathy is not poured lavishly upon such individuals especially when it is considered that 100 of these prisoners are serving sentences for murder or attempted murder? Yet through propaganda spewed out on an ill-informed public across the world the impression has often been created that there is some justice in their cause or substance to their claim — proof positive that the unanswered lie will become the truth.

At the time of writing, prisoners on the ‘Dirty’ protest have stepped up their campaign for political status. They either realise that the general public has seen through their propaganda veil or they have found that their disgusting campaign has no moral appeal to anyone outside their own murder gangs and a new deception is needed to advance their bogus cause. Seven sentenced prisoners (amongst them the killer of Jeffrey Agate and Patrick McNaulty) — gunmen and murderers — have commenced a hunger strike claiming that it will continue till death if the British Government do not concede their demands. To concede would effectively make society the prisoners of the terrorists who, with ever increasing regularity, could be expected to issue demands in the knowledge that a capitulating Government would meet their terms.

As essentially the two parties to this dispute are the British Government on the one hand and the Provisional I.R.A. Prisoners on the other, I can comment on events with a little more objectivity than would be normal on a Northern Ireland issue. In doing so there are three aspects of the Government’s handling of the affair that deserve censure. First, the granting of ‘Political Status’ in 1972, even though for a short period, was manifestly wrong and will be recognised to be so by any reasonable thinking person. This was confirmed when the Government changed its policy and refused to grant special status; the European Commission of Human Rights upheld the Government’s decision. It follows, therefore, that granting it under further blackmail would be equally wrong. The second government move deserving stricture was its decision to clean up the mess that the prisoners themselves had made. The prisoners foul their cells; the Prison Authorities send special squads to clean up the accommodation; then the prisoners once more make a mess of them. It is not hard to understand why, in a community which is being terrorised by the organisation that has embarked upon this protest, people believe that the prisoners should be made to clean up their cells themselves or live in their self-inflicted conditions.

A member of the Prison Staff cleaning the cell of a "dirty protestor".

The British Government also erred when, in the face of the present hunger strike blackmail, they responded by offering to allow all prisoners to wear civilian type clothing. This comes close to one of the prisoners’ demands but instead of encouraging co-operation from the protesters it has resulted in their gaining the scent of victory, causing them to hold out for the complete package. No doubt if their present terms were met further demands would follow leading to a total amnesty for terrorist prisoners. History shows that militant Republicanism can never be conciliated or accommodated.

If the hunger strikers die as a result of their own action then it is through exercising their own free choice. They have the choice of life or death — a choice they and their murderous organisation have denied thousands of their victims.

The mangled railway carriage in which a female passenger
was killed by a no warning bomb.

If you hear through the news media of the suffering of the hunger strikers think first of the widows, the orphans and the families of their victims. Think also of the thousands of maimed and mutilated citizens of Northern Ireland left to live out their remaining years with the scars and deformities resulting from the actions of the hunger strikers and their colleagues still at large. Think of the memory of the 2000 dead and tell me should the self-inflicted action of these murderers be allowed to blackmail Government and Society alike, to give them privileged treatment? The answer comes back from near and far — NO NEVER.

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