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State papers: Segregation issue united Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams

Ian Paisley at the 1990 DUP annual conference
Éamon Phoenix

TENSIONS between republicans and loyalists in Crumlin Road jail in 1990 led to pressure on Britain from both Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams.

Paisley received two letters from loyalist remand prisoners.

One correspondent, CR Armstrong, describing himself as a "loyalist, Protestant prisoner", referred to the "inhumane living conditions" as a result of the republican protest.

He told the DUP leader, "the landings have been literally swimming in urine" through which prisoners "had to wade".

Paisley passed the letter on to the NIO prisons minister, John Cope on May 14, 1990 with the comment: "As you can tell, they suffer intolerable conditions. The violence in the prison is due to the NIO's mishandling of the situation."

Dr Paisley demanded the segregation of loyalists and republicans "for their own safety and in the interests of common sense".

In his reply to Paisley, Cope stressed the British government's determination to resist the pressure for segregation, adding that this would only help paramilitary organisations "by allowing them to exercise wholly improper intimidation and control over other prisoners...the government is not prepared to countenance this".

Meanwhile, on April 25, 1990, Gerry Adams, MP for West Belfast, wrote to the NI secretary Peter Brooke from Sinn Féin headquarters, protesting at the deteriorating situation in the prison "as a result of the administration's policy of forcibly integrating loyalist and republican remand prisoners".

He alleged that republicans had been injured by prison warders, adding: "The policy of integration is clearly illogical and a recipe for conflict."

In a note on the file, Mr Adams's claim that prisoners had been injured was rejected.

Unlike Dr Paisley, Mr Adams did not receive a ministerial reply but a letter from the private secretary of the minister of state re-stating the government's policy on the issue.

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