A former Irish army reservist convicted of gun offences linked to a foiled attack on a trainee policeman’s home has won a legal battle to complete his sentence in the Republic.
Gerard McManus succeeded in his High Court action along with Keith McConnan, who served a term behind bars over an explosives seizure.
A High Court judge ruled that the Northern Ireland Probation Board and Department of Justice had wrongly concluded they had no discretion to permit them to live outside the UK.
The verdict was described as a major vindication of prisoners’ rights.
Both men have been released from prison but were denied permission to finish their periods on licence across the border.
Their lawyers challenged the stance taken by the Probation Board and the department, claiming it goes against the aim of rehabilitating offenders.
In 2014 30-year-old McManus, of Fern Hill in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, was jailed for having a gun with intent to endanger life, and possessing articles likely to be used in the preparation or instigation in acts of terrorism.
The offences relate to a planned attack on a student policeman’s home in Garrison, Co Fermanagh in 2009 foiled by an undercover intelligence operation.
McManus, who served nine years in the Irish army, received a 13-year sentence – half in custody and the remainder on licence.
McConnan, 21, was imprisoned over the discovery of explosives at a property in south Armagh in December 2013.
The former student now wants to be able to complete his period on licence while living with his parents near Dundalk, Co Louth.
His legal team said he was regarded as a model prisoner while detained.
He is more likely to resettle safely in the community while staying with them than any period spent in a hostel or other temporary accommodation in Northern Ireland, they argued.
In court lawyers for both men insisted the relevant rules do not specifically require a prisoner to reside at an address within the UK.
It was contended that those released in England and Wales under similar legislation are permitted to live outside the jurisdiction.
Barry MacDonald QC argued that the legislative framework is the same here as in England and Wales, but the interpretation is completely different.
Mr Justice Colton was also told that preventing a prisoner returning to their family home is contrary to the intention to rehabilitate.
Ruling on the case, the judge held that the respondents had misdirected themselves in law.
He also declared the policy refusing to allow prisoners to serve their period on licence outside the UK unlawful.