Northern Ireland prison bans book about Irish republicans

Maghaberry in County Antrim contains several republican paramilitaries

A Northern Irish prison that holds some of the most dangerous republican paramilitary prisoners has banned a new academic book about dissident Irish republicans.

Maghaberry, outside Lisburn in County Antrim, has prevented inmates gaining access to Unfinished Business: the Politics of Dissident Irish Republicanism, written by Marisa McGlinchey, a research fellow in political science at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University.

The book, published in February by Manchester University Press, is a study of radical republicans who accuse Sinn Fin and the Provisional IRA of accepting partition and selling out the movement. It is based on interviews with about 90 republicans, including inmates at Maghaberry.

Darragh Mackin, a Belfast-based solicitor who represents republican inmates, said such a ban was unusual but not unprecedented. We have asked a number of questions seeking clarity but havent yet had a response. We dont see a good reason for it being prohibited, he said.

Unfinished Business: the Politics of Dissident Irish Republicanism. Photograph: Rory Carroll/The Guardian
The prohibition coincides with a surge in attacks by the New IRA. In January, it detonated a car bomb outside a courthouse in Derry. In March, it sent letter bombs to targets in London and Glasgow, and this month one of its members shot dead the journalist Lyra McKee during rioting in Derry.

Police hunting McKees killer have warned of a a new breed of terrorist coming through the ranks 21 years after the Good Friday agreement supposedly drew a line under the Troubles.

McGlinchey said she was taken aback when a prisoner notified her about the ban: It must be because of the subject matter but this is an academic work. She visited Maghaberry five or six times to conduct interviews, she said.

The book has been endorsed by the life peer Paul Bew and Richard English, professors at Queens University Belfast and experts on Northern Ireland politics.

Marisa McGlinchey, the author of Unfinished Business. Photograph: Rory Carroll/The Guardian
Asked for the reason for the ban, a NI Prison
Service spokesperson said: The Northern Ireland Prison Service has a duty to ensure that we provide a neutral environment for prisoners, visitors and staff. On occasion, this will mean some items may not be permitted into our prisons.

In 2016, Maghaberry banned a booklet about two prisoners who were convicted of killing a police officer.

Nathan Hastings, a dissident who was recently released after serving time for possession of guns and explosives and was interviewed for the book, said the ban on Unfinished Business could be linked to a wider crackdown on the movement. It may be a tightening of the screws. Its one of the tools in their punitive arsenal.

Relations tend to be tense between prison staff and the several dozen republican dissidents held in Roe block, with disputes over Irish-language tuition and full-body searches.

The New IRA murdered two prison guards, David Black in 2012 and Adrian Ismay in 2016. Both were married with children. After Blacks killing inmates reportedly strode around the astro-pitch smoking cigars in celebration.

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