Irish politicians seek meeting with IRA prisoners

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The Independent Online
A GROUP of Irish parliamentarians will tomorrow seek face-to-face talks with five IRA prisoners on "dirty protest" at Whitemoor jail, Cambridgeshire.

The protest involves discarding prison uniform for blankets only and smearing excrement on cell walls. The three members of the Dail and one Senator, all from the Labour Party, which is part of Mr John Bruton's government, visit Full Sutton prison near York today to begin a 48-hour tour of English jails where Republican inmates say conditions are worsening despite the 11-month ceasefire and the continuing peace process.

The Irish inspection team, which will report directly to Deputy Prime Minister Dick Spring on Wednesday, has been granted "open" meetings with prisoners at Full Sutton, but not yet at Whitemoor, where three IRA inmates began a "dirty protest" two weeks ago. Two more have now joined them.

Declan Bree, TD, said: "The resolution of this issue is crucial to the consolidation of the peace process. There is growing concern about the lack of movement of prisoners to Northern Ireland.The British government promised to be flexible on the prisoner issue. But the only person released so far is Private Lee Clegg. The Irish people have no objection to his release, but Republican and Loyalist prisoners should be treated likewise. Some have served in excess of 20 years and want to be transferred back home."

The IRA men say approved transfers to Northern Ireland have not taken place; they are subject to frequent and sudden transfers within Britain; their physical conditions have worsened and some have been placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

Yesterday the Government stood firm in its demand for movement towards the surrender of IRA arms before all-party peace talks can begin.

The Northern Ireland Minister for Political Development, Michael Ancram, outlined the Government's position to a five-man Irish-American delegation which helped broker the IRA ceasefire.

The group, led by former Congressman Bruce Morrison, spent nearly two hours with Mr Ancram at Hillsborough Castle amid increasing signs that the peace process is in danger and threats of a summer of street protests from Sinn Fein.

Mr Morrison said: "It's our intention to see the success of the ceasefire turn into long-term peace. It's obvious there's a logjam and there will have to be flexibility among all parties for that logjam to be broken."