'Special category' status ends in Northern Ireland

Keith Graves reports that at dawn tomorrow several dozen prisoners will walk through the gates of the Maze prison south of Belfast to an unexpected freedom. They are beneficiaries of wide ranging changes in the rules and regulations of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

Today (1st March 1976), Merlyn Rees, Labour Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, ended 'special category' status for prisoners convicted of 'Troubles' related offences. Under the previous conditions loyalist and republican prisoners enjoy certain privileges: they can wear their own clothes while they are in prison; they don't have to work while they are serving their sentences and they can receive additional food and tobacco parcels.

However, from midnight tonight prisoners convicted of terrorist related offences will not enjoy these privileges. Loyalists in Protestant areas have responded to the news with violence which will continue, they say, until the government reverses its policy.

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ReporterKeith Graves

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