SF mayor urged to apologise after addressing rally for jailed dissident

Supporters of Tony Taylor at Sunday's rally calling for his release
Supporters of Tony Taylor at Sunday's rally calling for his release

The Sinn Fein mayor of Strabane and Derry Council has been urged to apologise to victims of terrorism after he addressed a rally supporting a dissident republican while wearing his chain of office.

Sunday’s gathering in Londonderry was staged in protest at the ongoing imprisonment of Tony Taylor, a veteran republican with bomb and gun convictions.

Taylor has been in jail since March 2016 having previously been released on licence under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Pleas to release him have been made since his licence was revoked by the secretary of state last spring.

Campaigners have claimed his ongoing detention is unfair.

Mayor Maoliosa McHugh’s presence at the ‘Free Tony Taylor’ event has drawn criticism from unionists, with DUP councillor Graham Warke accusing him of breaching protocol by wearing his chain of office at a political event.

Mr Warke told the News Letter: “I was walking on the city walls on Sunday and I saw the mayor address the rally with his chain of office on.

“He is supposed to be representing both sides of the community and neutral when it comes to issues such as this.

“This is not the first time he has done something of this nature. He previously wore his chain of office at a rally held at Free Derry Corner for Elisha McCallion when she won the Westminster election.

“Incidents such as this cause offence to the unionist community and I would call on Mr McHugh to apologise to victims of terrorism in Londonderry and the district for his actions.”

Defending himself in the wake of Mr Warke’s comments, Mr McHugh said he had been invited to attend the rally in his capacity as mayor.

He added: “Councillor Warke speaks of representing ‘both communities’, but to me there are many communities here and I represent them all.

“My attendance at the rally reflects the corporate policy of the council in regards to Tony Taylor.

“The council supports the release of Tony Taylor and so I was not breaching any protocol.”

Last year, councillors voted to support a motion calling for Taylor to be freed.

He was jailed for 18 years after being injured when a bomb exploded prematurely in Londonderry in 1994 but released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

He had been in prison since August 2011 while awaiting trial for possessing a semi-automatic 597 Magnum rifle.

He took part in a so-called “dirty protest” while in jail.

The 48-year-old pleaded guilty in 2014 and was sentenced to three years in custody, and four on licence.

By that stage, he had already been in jail for almost three years.

A recent review of his case determined he should remain in custody.

Campaigners have claimed his ongoing detention is unfair, and recruits to his cause have included Catholic priest Father Paddy O’Kane and the late deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.