Maze (HM Prison)

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Her Majesty's Prison Maze (known colloquially as Maze Prison, The Maze, The H Blocks or Long Kesh) was a prison in Northern Ireland that was used to house paramilitary prisoners during the Troubles from mid-1971 to mid-2000.

It was situated in the former Royal Air Force station of Long Kesh, on the outskirts of Lisburn. This was in the townland of Maze, about nine miles (14 km) southwest Belfast. The prison and its inmates played a prominent role in recent Irish history, notably in the 1981 hunger strike. The prison was closed in 2000 and demolition began on 30 October 2006, but (as of 2010) has been halted.[1]

Contents

Background

Following the introduction of internment in 1971 "Operation Demetrius" was implemented by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army with raids for 452 suspects on 9 August 1971. The RUC and army arrested 342 Catholics, but key Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) members had been tipped off and 104 of those arrested were released when it emerged they had no paramilitary connections.[2] Those behind Operation Demetrius were accused of bungling, by arresting many of the wrong people and using out of date information. Later, some loyalists were also arrested. By 1972 there were 924 internees and by the end of internment on 5 December 1975 1,981 people had been detained; 1,874 of whom were Catholic and 107 Protestants.[3]

Initially the internees were housed, with different paramilitary groups separated from each other, in Nissen huts at a disused RAF airfield that became the Long Kesh Detention Centre. The internees and their supporters agitated for improvements in their conditions and status; they saw themselves as political prisoners rather than common criminals. In July 1972 William Whitelaw introduced Special Category Status for those sentenced for crimes relating to the civil violence. There were 1,100 Special Category Status prisoners at that time.

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