Inside the Maze and out, ministers keep on searching for solutions

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The Independent Online
A visit to the Maze prison, in the tense wake of the assassination of loyalist Billy Wright inside its walls, is not without its ironies. "Smuggling prohibited" declares a large notice at the gate. "Warning - no firearms beyond this point" says another.

A few miles away three INLA prisoners accused of killing Wright with two smuggled firearms were being remanded in custody. When charged, one of them coolly told police: "Billy Wright was executed for one reason and for one reason only, and that was for directing and waging a campaign of terror against the nationalist people from his prison cell."

While the republicans were on the outside being charged, security minister Adam Ingram was inside the jail explaining why there would be no resignations of ministers or officials: "This is a very unique prison. It's unique in the whole of the democratic world. Nowhere is there such a concentration of dedicated paramilitaries and terrorists, and that does make a very unique situation."

Twenty miles away Wright's associates were busy organising for his funeral today. That too will be a unique occasion in that he thought a lot about death, partly because he had survived a number of previous assassination attempts; and also, perhaps, because he had inflicted a fair amount of death himself.

He left behind detailed instructions for his own funeral. He wanted a member of the Rev Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian church to officiate at the service, and another clergyman, a one-time loyalist prisoner who has since become a pastor, to give a graveside oration.

In the meantime, the security forces are hoping that members of the Loyalist Volunteer Force, the group which Wright founded and led, will not be planning further violent retaliation for his death. They now think Saturday night's LVF attack on a Catholic-frequented disco in Co Tyrone may have been an attempt to stage a massacre.

Three Catholic doormen outside the disco were shot and wounded, one of them fatally, while a 14-year-old boy was also hurt in the incident. Hundreds of teenagers were inside at the disco, but the LVF opened fire on the doormen instead of attempting to enter it to carry out what in Northern Ireland is known as a "spray-job".

The doorman who died, Seamus Dillon, was a former republican prisoner who had served a lengthy sentence for two IRA killings. Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said the doormen's "swift, unselfish and heroic" actions may have saved the lives of dozens of teenagers.

In the wake of the incident the police and army have stepped up patrols in a number of areas, paying particular attention to Catholic bars and hotels and other locations which might be targets for further LVF attacks. The situation in many areas is tense.

Back at the Maze, meanwhile, the minister's own car was subjected to a thorough search by paratroopers who looked in the boot and opened a suitcase before letting him through.

Media personnel who wished to question him were identified, searched and driven within the prison complex in a minibus with opaque windows. They were then delivered at a gate set in a perimeter wall which is 16ft high and which runs for two and a half miles. It is studded with occasional 30ft high watch-towers, its high points festooned with wires, cameras and searchlights. An escorted walk through a series of gates and four turnstiles followed, leading to a training room. In a corner, training manuals for a "custodial care vocational qualification" for prison officers laid out security rules. Element 2.1 dealt with "maintaining security during routine movement of prisoners within the establishment", which is what officers were doing with Billy Wright when he was gunned down.

Mr Ingram announced a new programme of regular and random searches in the prison together with a series of enquiries into the various incidents and the general running of the jail. Asked whether the Government would accede to Unionist calls for resignations he retorted: "Absolutely no. Resignations are not on the cards. In Northern Ireland local politicians can be long on comment but very short on solutions and answers."