A spokesman for Ireland’s governing party has indicated it hopes to keep pursuing the Hooded Men case through the courts, after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a set of interrogation methods used against them did not amount to torture.
Speaking at a gathering of the Seanad (the upper house of the Dublin-based parliament) senator Joe O’Reilly, Fine Gael’s Seanad spokesman for foreign affairs, said the ordeal the men suffered had been “reprehensible” and did amount to “torture”.
The debate on Wednesday stemmed from a judgment handed down by the European Court of Human Rights in March which said the treatment of the group – held by the security forces during internment in 1971 and subjected to noise, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and more – did not meet the technical definition of torture.
In support of a motion which called on the Irish government to appeal this ruling to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, Belfast-born Sinn Fein senator Niall O Donnghaile said “the British should wear the label of torturer on the international stage, because that is what they were”.
The motion was backed up by Fianna Fail and a succession of independent senators.
He said four of the 14 men have since died, “but the remainder continue in their quest for justice”.
He said: “The full resources of the British state was used to try to crush the will of these 14 men. They were guinea pigs in a torture experiment which the British government had used in other colonies and on other defenceless and captured prisoners.”
He was backed up by Fianna Fail and a succession of independent senators too.
Seconding the motion, Rose Conway-Walsh (also a Sinn Fein member) said she was urging support for the motion so that “the moral compass can be recalibrated ... if that’s not torture, I don’t know what is”.
She said: “I trust in this government, that they will do the right thing. The natural next step is to appeal this. It can be appealed before the 15th of June, and I think and I hope the result will be different this time around.”
Senator Joe O’Reilly (Fine Gael) said the case was “reprehensible”, “awful”, and “wrong” – and did amount to “torture”.
In 2014 Ireland requested that a 1978 judgment – which found the treatment fell short of torture – be revised in the wake of an RTE show about the case.
This bid essentially failed.
Senator O’Reilly said the difference between the men’s treatment being “inhumane and degrading” and it being “torture” was a case of “semantics”.
But when it comes to an appeal “the attorney general has to weigh up the facts”, and he warned that such an application may well not be granted.
He said that “my party will be accepting the motion, and does understand the gravity of the situation and has no objection in principle”.
He went on to add that while there are “limitations to its potential ... we’d want to exhaust this to the very end degree”.
On Thursday afternoon, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement which was more equivocal than senator O’Reilly.
It said: “The government has three months from the date of the decision to apply for a referral.
“We are using that time to consider the judgment carefully before any Cabinet decision on whether to move ahead with the application.
“When the government has made a decision on whether to apply for a referral to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights that decision will be made public.”