End of an era?

Historical is a term rather loosely applied in Northern Ireland; I have lost count of the ‘Historical events’ of the last thirty years. However as I stood outside Long Kesh on Friday 28th July 2000 I sensed that I was witness to a truly historic occasion – the beginning of the end of this symbol of conflict. If ever a place can truly epitomise the tragedy of the last thirty years then surely the Compounds and H-blocks of Long Kesh must rank high.

While waiting on the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando (RHC) prisoners to emerge I had time to reflect on my own experience of the H-blocks where I spent the majority of my thirteen years in prison. I thought of my family, particularly my wife, who had made countless treks to this most depressing of environments over many long years for the benefit of a half-hour visit. From I entered its confines in 1981 it was to be almost five years before any sense of ‘normality’ existed. It was one crisis after another; the Republican dirty protest and hunger strike, the Loyalist protest for segregation and the IRA escape spring to mind. Long Kesh was the catalyst that fuelled and prolonged the conflict for many years.


The British government’s mishandling of the Republican hunger strikes was to have profound consequences for Northern Ireland and its people. It beggared belief that anyone would believe that implacable enemies would coexist peacefully when the vast majority of the population of ‘peace loving people’ outside the prison chose to live apart. Ironically this was one issue where the much sought after cross community support could have been achieved, certainly within the prison. The legacy of the hunger strike was a new impetus to the violence of the Republican movement and the rapid political emergence of Sinn Fein on the back of the anti H-block candidates’ successes. Nationalist Ireland was galvanised like never before. The decision to end special category status in the prisons was a blunder of catastrophic proportion. Hopefully the lessons of Long Kesh will ensure that Maghaberry will be managed with a greater degree of realism. It was refreshing recently to hear a former senior Prison Governor acknowledge the mistakes that were made in relation to Long Kesh and the resultant impact on the whole community.

There was a diverse range of people in the car parks of Long Kesh on the 28thJuly including friends and relatives of the prisoners, members of various paramilitary groupings and political parties, the usual media circus and some members of victims groups. For all these people the releases meant different things – some were there to welcome a loved one, others to receive members of their organisation, the victims to register their protest at the releases and the media to report on the event, some in their own sensationalist and mischievous manner. The presence of the victim’s group made the dignified exit of the UVF and RHC prisoners all the more welcome and I took pleasure from that – champagne and flags didn’t seem appropriate! While I disagree with their stance on prisoner release, I can understand the sentiments of people like William Frazer and Michelle Williamson who have suffered grievously during the course of the conflict. I pondered how I might feel in their circumstances but am saddened by politicians who use their plight to further their own political agenda. These same politicians have, in the past, shown scant regard for victims. Indeed if their political aspirations were realised it would be a recipe for future generations of prisoners and victims.

I also gave some thought to the prison officers, many of whom will become redundant in the near future. Prison Officers reflected society in general, displaying all aspects of human behaviour including good and evil. Many officers were decent people who took pride in their work and tried to be as humane as the environment allowed. Some of their colleagues however fell a long way short. There is much talk from their union representatives about shabby treatment in respect of their redundancy packages. Given the level of intellectual and physical ability that I witnessed in their ranks I think that many of them will be counting themselves fortunate to have received inflated salaries over the years disproportionate to their talents. For them Long Kesh was definitely the goose that laid the golden eggs.

What now for the future of Long Kesh? Personally, I would shed no tears if it were razed to the ground. Indeed that is what I would advocate. In recent weeks proposals have been made, particularly from Republican sources, to have it turned into some sort of museum. While I can understand their sentiments, I wonder, given their stance on Loyal Order parades, have they considered how the Unionist residents of the Maze would feel about what would be tantamount to a permanent Republican shrine in their midst.

UVF prisoner 1980 – 1993


3 Responses to END OF AN ERA? UVF FORMER PRISONER 1980-1993

  1. Charlie Freel

    Excellent article, the last paragraph especially highlights the deafening silence from the IRA’s new partners the Alliance party, on this issue.
    When the issues of The National Standard, the lighting up of the City Hall on Rememberance Day and the flying of the National Standard at the Cenotaph arose, the Alliance Party quickly demanded that equality commission reports by the totally undemocratic and unelected equality commission should be carried out.
    Why no clamour now from the Alliance Party for an equality commission report on the offence felt by the local residents of, the Maze, Halftown, Culcavey, Hillsborough and the Town of Lisburn, with regard to the retention of the ugly, eyesore H block and prison hospital as perpetual Republican shrines to terrorism?
    Could it be they realise, that this time it would be impossible for the totally biased, so-called equality commission to gerrymander the result in a favourable manner for the Alliance party and their IRA partners.

  2. and end of an era , the glad and happy demise of maggie thatcher, like the big ian and all who follow after who sold ulster down the river who put prod against it’s r.c. nat/rep fellow citizens , and then sat back !! i look for ward to all the comment’s from the super prod’s on the i.r.a. hunger strike’s ! she would have let every prod loyalist die the same, don’t kid your self !! she gave the republic a big say in our part of the u.k., she made the i.r.a. heroes through out the world, and sold the people of Britain to off to the scum of the world, fact ! i am very interested in a ex l.p.o.w response to this, all the very best, jim

    • Charlie Freel

      Maggie Thatcher, was simply following the example of Roy Mason, the only effective Secretary of State to ever set foot in Northern Ireland. Mason as an ex-military man, knew that the only way to effectively defeat terrorism, was to terrorise the terrorists, hence his introduction of the shoot to kill policy.
      Mason gave permission for the Special Forces to legally use on terrorists, the same tactics which the IRA were using to murder by cowardly ambush, unarmed Loyalists and Part-time security force personal.
      Mason fully understood the simplistic beauty of this old British Army tactic, if you terrorise the terrorists in a determined manner, with deliberate and total disregard to outside opinion, the half-hearted and the non-totally commited hangers on and profiteers soon scarper. You are then left with a small hard core group of fanatics, who the security forces are already well aware of and who can then be quickly taken out by the Special Forces.
      The IRA, have already admitted that if Mason had remained as Secretary of state, they would have been defeated much sooner.
      As an ex-trade unionist activist, I personally detested Maggie Thatcher, she completely destroyed the manufacturing industries of the United Kingdom and sold of social housing. Instead of the funds that were raised from these privatisations being used to build new industries and new social housing, they were used to reward the super rich. I believe that the right time to challange Thatcher was when she was in power and able to defend herself. I believe it was wrong and totally cowardly of Republicans and others, to celebrate the death of a totally helpless elderly lady, who was obviously both physically and mentally very feeble. I believe that the pathetic behaviour of her opponents says more about them than it does about her.
      You ask, how did ex-Loyalist Prisoners feel about the Republican hungerstrikers, I think that it would be pretty accurate to say that, although we respected their determination, we would have been quite happy to see them all starve themselves to death.