End of loyalist hunger strike at Magilligan welcomed

Billy McQuiston was one of ten loyalists who went on hunger strike at Magilligan in 1984.
Billy McQuiston was one of ten loyalists who went on hunger strike at Magilligan in 1984.

Douglas Hurd’s Private Secretary wrote to his counterpart in Margaret Thatcher’s office in late 1984 pleased a loyalist hunger strike in Magilligan jail was over, newly declassified state papers reveal.

The strike was conducted intermittently throughout 1984 by ten members of both the UDA and the UVF who were seeking segregation from republicans. Prominent loyalists including former UDA man Billy McQuiston and former UVF man Alan McKenzie were among five strikers who later took the United Kingdom to Europe over their treatment.

On October 9, 1984 Graham Sandiford wrote to Charles Powell - the older brother of Tony Blair’s former apparatchik Jonathan Powell - about the end of the strike.

He advised: “This is to confirm that the ten prisoners at Magilligan prison who had ‘suspended’ their hunger strike for the second time on September 25...said on the evening of Friday, October 5, that the strike was over. This followed a debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly on October 3 and a letter - which made no concessions and made clear that the Government would not make changes in prison arrangements under the duress of a hunger strike, which the Secretary of State sent to Party leaders earlier that day.”

Mr Sandiford expressed satisfaction the strike was over and the Government had not acceded to the prisoners’ demands, stating: “It is good that the strike has come to an end. No doubt the Loyalist and the Republican paramilitaries will go on looking for opportunities to press for segregation, and the issue is likely to surface again at some stage.”

“But it is useful that in this incident the authority of Government in the prisons has been maintained,” the letter concludes.

Five of the prisoners complained to the European Commission of Human Right that they had “all endured physical assaults and intimidation from republican prisoners housed in the same prison wing” in Magilligan.

They also complained that they were not offered the same treatment as prisoners in the Maze who were segregated.

But in 1986 the Commission ruled: “While there have been episodic incidents of violence in Magilligan prison the degree of violent reaction has been much less. “The Commission does not consider therefore that the situation in these prisons is analagous and thus no question of discrimination arises.”