Think again about dissident release campaign: MP

Tony Taylor

Tony Taylor

A DUP MP has called upon a Catholic priest to reconsider his support for a campaign to release a hardline dissident republican from jail.

Gregory Campbell, representing East Londonderry, was reacting to the fact Father Paddy O’Kane has voiced fresh condemnation of the decision to revoke Tony Taylor’s licence.

In a recent online post, which was quoted by the Derry Journal newspaper on Friday, Father O’Kane condemned “the injustice of his continued detention without charge”, adding that he had visited the Taylor family over the Christmas period to bring them a gift.

Last October he was quoted by the Irish News as saying “they should either charge him or release him”, and that he “comes across as a decent respectable family man”.

The same article said Father O’Kane did not agree with Taylor’s politics, and has denounced dissident activity in the past.

Gregory Campbell said he did not believe “anyone in the wider public” would condemn Father O’Kane for administering pastoral care, such as visiting families.

However, he noted there is a “very real” dissident threat in the region, adding: “To have a person who has been convicted of very serious criminal and terrorist offences, and has made clear what his dissident republican sympathies are, then obviously any government has to treat very cautiously how they deal with such an individual – and so should any cleric who is going beyond the pastoral care approach...

“What I’d hope he’d do is reconsider the political elements and the dissident republican element of Mr Taylor’s current position.

“He’s in prison because of his terrorist links, and because – I presume – the Secretary of State is still not convinced he no longer poses a threat. So I’d hope the parish priest would consider that.”

Father O’Kane could not be reached on Monday; he is currently in the western USA.

When asked if it was it appropriate that a clergyman was campaigning to free a recently-convicted paramilitary, the Catholic Church’s central Irish communications department referred the matter the Derry diocese; there, Father Michael Canny said the diocese did not wish to comment.

Taylor – a member of the dissident Republican Network for Unity – had been in jail since August 2011 while awaiting trial for possessing a rifle, taking part in a “dirty protest” in jail.

He eventually pleaded guilty in 2014 and was sentenced to three years in custody, and five on licence.

By that stage he had already been in jail for almost three years and was soon released.

Taylor had also been sentenced to 18 years in jail in 1994 in relation to an explosion in Londonderry but was released under the Good Friday Agreement.

After returning him to jail last spring, the Secretary of State told the News Letter: “The law provides that individuals may be recalled to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence if they breach the conditions of their licence. On this basis the Secretary of State has revoked Mr Taylors licence.”

But did not specify exactly on what grounds he had been returned to jail.