Growing support for release of convicted IRA bomber '˜a concern'

Concern has been expressed over the growing political support for a campaign to see convicted IRA bomber Tony Taylor freed from prison.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor

Taylor had his license revoked in March by the Secretary of State at the time, Theresa Villiers, and now a group of TDs from the Republic have claimed the republican is having his “human rights” violated.

DUP MLA Gary Middleton said the TDs who expressed concern about the issue were “interfering in an internal matter for the UK”.

“Tony Taylor wasn’t too worried about human rights when he was going out to plant bombs,” Mr Middleton said.

“This is a dangerous man we are talking about and if the Secretary of State feels that he should be kept locked up to protect the public, I support that decision.”

Taylor 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.

He 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.

Fianna Fail TD Eamon O’Cuiv and the independent TDs Mick Wallace, Maureen O’Sullivan and Clare Daly visited Maghaberry Prison this week and met Taylor.

Ms Daly said she believes “Mr Taylor’s human rights have been violated”.

“There is a clear lack of due process in this case,” she said.

“The group believes that the available evidence against Mr Taylor is circumstantial at best and the closed evidence, being withheld from Mr Taylor and his solicitor, cannot be challenged as his legal team have no access to it. This is a clear breach of human rights and completely unjust.”

Mr Middleton, however, said the TDs should not be interfering and expressed concern at the growing political support for the bomber’s release.

Earlier this year, a motion was passed at Derry City and Strabane District Council calling for him to be freed.

Martin McGuinness has also weighed into the row and a rally in support of the republican took place in Londonderry last month.

Mr Middleton, the Foyle MLA, said the growing support for Taylor was particularly concerning.

“There has been a growth in support for Mr Taylor but I do not agree with any of it. I would be concerned by it.

“The individuals who are travelling up from the Republic of Ireland need to be mindful of the message that they are sending out.

“When this issue came up at the local council we had to remind people of Tony Taylor’s history and the fact that he was sentenced to 18 years for planting a bomb and convicted again after being caught with a rifle.

“This isn’t a man in jail for stealing sweets. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a very dangerous individual. People aren’t put in prison for no reason.

“This is a matter for the UK to deal with internally - for the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Prison Service.”

The Northern Ireland Office said: “The Secretary of State’s priority must be the protection of the public; it would be irresponsible to fail to act on information indicating that they are at risk of serious harm.

“It is for the independent Parole Commissioners to consider whether Mr Taylor should serve the remainder of his sentence in prison.

“Mr Taylor is aware of the reasons for his revocation, as immediately he was returned to custody he was provided with a copy of the independent Parole Commissioner’s recommendation and the reasons why his licence was revoked.”