ALMOST half a million pounds has been spent cleaning the cells of dissident republicans engaged in a dirty protest at Maghaberry Prison.
A spokesperson for the campaign group set up to have Gerry McGeough released has questioned whether this money could have been better spent.
Although not engaged in the protest, the Brantry republican, who was jailed for the attempted murder of DUP Councillor Samuel Brush, is housed in the same block as the protestors.
McGeough has raised fears over the health hazards caused by the protest, and his vulnerable medical condition.
Damian Herron, spokesperson of the Free Gerry McGeough Campaign, said the costs to clean the cells were mounting daily and were a waste of public money.
Justice minister David Ford announced that £446,913 had been paid to external companies which have been carrying out work at the high security jail in Co Antrim.
A further £55,738 has been used to buy supplies such as a specialist industrial absorbent, said the minister.
Just over 30 dissident republicans are involved in a no wash dirty protest smearing excrement on the walls and floor of their cells as well as emptying urine into the prison landings.
The protest, which started last May, is in opposition to strip searches. Inmates want electronic scanning devices to replace what they claim are humiliating full body searches. Prisoners have also accused the authorities of reneging on an agreement which was signed in August 2010 after months of talks with mediators.
Information on the cell cleaning costs was released in response to a written question from SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey.
Mr Ramsey, who has visited Roe House as part of an SDLP delegation, said: “The amount of money that has been spent on cleaning could be better spent on a scanner which I would hope would resolve the current protest at Roe House.”
Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, said: “It is terrible conditions for the staff who have to work in the prison but, it just shows that the dedication and commitment they have. People in other industries would simply not work in those types of conditions, but what choice do prison officers have? If they don’t do it there would be nobody to look after the prisoners.”