We look at the stories that were making the headlines this week in 1983

Over 1,000 new voters on electoral register

WITH many people having already made an early morning trip to the polling booths, observers are predicting a record turnout in the key constituencies of North and West Belfast.

An appeal from all the parties for their supporters to claim their votes early, coupled with the broad spectrum of political opinion represented by the candidates, seem to be the main factors behind the brisk turnout.

A high attendance at voting centres also reflects Sinn Féin’s efforts to mobilise the traditional anti-election republican vote and the fact that since the Assembly elections over 1,000 West Belfast people, previously without a vote, have been registered.

Meanwhile, the calls over the last few weeks by both state and church heads for people to “reject violence”, should lead to a higher turnout of people opposed to the IRA.
Reports of personation on a wide scale were also coming in shortly after polls opened at 7am.

Summer play schemes axed as cutbacks bite

Children have become the latest victims of Government cutbacks with the news that summer play schemes are to be completely axed or substantially reduced in almost every area of Belfast.

Organised annually by the Voluntary Services Bureau or BELB, the schemes were run by trained staff, local mothers and volunteers.

Areas affected include Ardoyne, the Markets, Short Strand, Andersonstown and the Greater Ballymurphy area.

A typical example is the Short Strand play scheme which, though successful last year cannot be held this summer.

A threat also hangs over the Divis Flats summer scheme though it now appears that rather than completely shelving the project it may be shorted from eight to six weeks.
Commented a Divis community worker: “It will be a tragedy if this play scheme doesn’t go ahead. It is one of the best schemes we have ever had in the flats and last year it was really successful.”

A popular summer scheme organised jointly by the BELB and the Community Services has also been shortened. In 1981 the scheme was organised over eight weeks. Last year it was reduced to six weeks, while this year it will last only four weeks.

The Newhill VSB summer scheme has been totally scrapped leaving no holiday amenities in the area for the U-10s. Local people, however, plan to carry on with a less extensive play scheme.

“We will open the Newhill Youth Club Centre for a couple of nights per week for the younger kids,” said local woman Eilish Reilly.

The nearest summer scheme to New Barnsley is now St Thomas’ School.

Irish prisoners separated and then dispersed

WITHOUT any prior notice the 51 Irish prisoners in England have been separated from their fellow Irish prisoners and dispersed to jails throughout the length and breadth of England. And, immediately on reaching their destinations, the prisoners were placed in solitary confinement. Now Belfast relatives of the republican prisoners are anxiously awaiting news of their loved ones as the first reports filter through of a ruthless backlash being unleashed on them by jail authorities incensed at the dramatic Albany Jail protest. 

It is believed that a whole catalogue of punishments have been drawn up for the Irish prisoners with the Albany protestors being singled out for special attention. Punishments already made public include: 1 Each Irish prisoners to be isolated; 2 Only one letter per month to relatives; 3 An end to “accumulated” visits. Under this system, which has been operating for ten years now, a prisoner could “save up” visits and then see relatives once or twice a year for a whole day. One Belfast relative of a long term republican prisoner suggested the authorities, by separating the Irish prisoners, were “trying to take the teeth out of them”. “When there were four or five of them together, they could defend one another but now each prisoners is alone they will have to face the threat of violence from every UVF man and ex-soldier serving a sentence in England,” he said. “By separating them,” he went on, “they are trying to take away their strength and once isolated the Irish POWs have no choice but to spend their time in solitary – if the jail authorities allow them.”

Belfast man Tony Clarke, who led the Albany protest, is now in solitary and has not received a change of clothing since the roof top demonstration ended. His sister, who lives in Lenadoon, had planned to visit him in July, but may now have to make other arrangements.