HC Deb 08 March 1979 vol 963 cc1475-7
12. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will list the nature of the offences for which prisoners in Northern Ireland who are currently engaged in unhygienic and other protests were convicted.

Mr. Concannon

The great majority of the prisoners protesting for special category status at Maze prison have been convicted of very serious crimes. Of 369 protesting on 28 February, 54 were convicted of murder, 57 of attempted murder, 110 of explosive offences and 91 of firearms offences.

Mr. Hardy

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that information should not be overlooked? Will he tell us what arrangements are being made in the case of those prisoners known to the House as the Shankill butchers?

Mr. Concannon

I assure my hon. Friend that I do not overlook the figures and the persons who have committed those crimes. The notorious Shankill butchers will not be given special category status, because some of their heinous crimese were committed after 1 March 1976.

Mr. Wm. Ross

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many of those prisoners who are "on the blanket" are believed to be members of the official IRA?

Mr. Concannon

I do not differentiate between prisoners. They are there for their crimes, and I shall not differentiate between them one way or the other.

Mr. Fitt

My right hon. Friend will recognise that the IRA propaganda is to the effect that many of those prisoners in block H in the Maze prison are there because of false confessions, whether that is to be believed or not. Has my right hon. Friend the report of the Bennett committee, which inquired into the interrogation methods of the RUC in Castlereagh, on his desk? When will the report be published?

Mr. Concannon

The report has been submitted to my right hon. Friend and will be published shortly. My hon. Friend will have to wait for the publication. The prisoners are in prisons for the crimes that they have committed. They have gone through the courts and are there to serve their sentences.

Mr. Rhodes James

Is the Minister aware that the conditions in the Maze prison, particularly in H block which I have visited, are considerably better than the normal conditions of United Kingdom prisons?

Mr. Concannon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. Most hon. Members who have tearaway constituents in prisons in the United Kingdom know that the constituents do not have the benefits that prisoners in the Maze and other prisons in Northern Ireland are entitled to.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the Minister tell the House if any of the men who were on these protests have now ceased them?

Mr. Concannon

This is a continuing process. In December, 12 prisoners went on protest and eight came off; in January, 17 prisoners went on protest and eight came off and in February, 14 prisoners went on protest and 11 came off. During the period of the protest, more than 50 prisoners who have been on protest have come off.