The Sinn Féin Mayor of Derry City and Strabane council has dismissed calls for him to “consider his position” over his support for a campaign calling for the release of a dissident republican.
Independent unionist councillor Maurice Devenney, himself a former Mayor of Derry City Council, hit out after the current mayor attended Maghaberry prison wearing his mayoral chain to lend his support to a campaign for the release of Tony Taylor.
Taylor had been sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1994 for IRA activity after the premature explosion of a bomb in Londonderry, before being released on license under the Good Friday Agreement. He was jailed for three years in 2011 for possession of a rifle, and again in 2016 when his license was revoked.
A campaign calling for Mr Taylor’s release has since developed and has gained the support of, amongst others, Sinn Féin. A delegation including Sinn Féin Mayor Maolíosa McHugh, Foyle MP Elisha McCallion, Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney and MEP Martina Anderson, visited Maghaberry on Friday to support the campaign.
Maurice Devenney hit out at the Mayor over his attendance, saying: “He was there with a delegation of other Sinn Féin members to meet at Her Majesty’s Prison Tony Taylor, a well known republican. My argument is that when a Mayor puts on the chain of office, he has to be neutral. Let’s look at Tony Taylor, a terrorist at the end of the day. Every right thinking being feels safer when a terrorist is behind bars.”
He continued: “When you put that chain on, you represent everyone but I can assure you the mayor was not representing me when he went to Maghaberry to meet a republican terrorist. I can assure you he was not representing anyone in the unionist family. He should consider his position.”
Responding, Maolíosa McHugh said: “The visit to Tony Taylor, in fact, is representative of the corporate position of our council. That position had to be a majority for it to be adopted. On this particular issue, it is a human rights issue, it is above party politics. I was not there as a Sinn Fein representative, I was there as the Mayor and in that respect it was quite appropriate for me to have a photograph taken at the event wearing the chain.”
Maurice Devenney, however, said the council’s official support for the Tony Taylor campaign was indicative only of the fact that the council is dominated by nationalists and republicans.
“These motions are passed and look, let’s be honest, they’re always going to go through because they are a majority on the council - nationalists and republicans. The unionist bloc — the DUP, the Ulster Unionists and myself as an independent — we are a minority in there.”
A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council said: “The Mayor was part of a delegation that travelled to Maghaberry last week to visit Tony Taylor. Earlier this year Derry City and Strabane District Council passed a motion supporting calls for the immediate release of Tony Taylor who is presently detained in Maghaberry.”