Ben Lowry: Simon Coveney gives succour to a dissident terrorist and still the UK stays silent

Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney at Queen's University Belfast with Secretary of State Karen Bradley MP in April.''London never challenges his pro nationalist interventions, not even after he came close to calling for Tony Taylor to be released. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney at Queen's University Belfast with Secretary of State Karen Bradley MP in April.''London never challenges his pro nationalist interventions, not even after he came close to calling for Tony Taylor to be released. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Three weeks ago, this newspaper did a two-page feature (see link below) on the (latest) pro nationalist interference in Northern Ireland by Simon Coveney.

The Republic’s deputy prime minister had said that the imprisonment of the dissident republican terrorist Tony Taylor in Northern Ireland added to “community tensions in an unwelcome way”.

Tony Taylor who was jailed for 18 years in the 1990s, freed early under the Belfast Agreement, then admitted in 2014 possessing a rifle, jailed again, then freed on licence, which has been revoked. The SDLP, Sinn Fein, dissidents and Irish politicians are demanding his release.

Tony Taylor who was jailed for 18 years in the 1990s, freed early under the Belfast Agreement, then admitted in 2014 possessing a rifle, jailed again, then freed on licence, which has been revoked. The SDLP, Sinn Fein, dissidents and Irish politicians are demanding his release.

Taylor, from Londonderry, was given an 18-year prison term in the 1990s for an explosion but freed early under the Belfast Agreement.

That release, let us remember, was an act of goodwill from the British state. Unionists, generously, did not in 1998 insist such releases be tied to IRA decommissioning.

But Taylor abused that goodwill and returned to illegality and admitted in 2014 possession of a rifle, for which he was sentenced to another jail term. He was freed on licence soon afterwards.

Then in 2016 his licence was revoked, as a result of which there has been a growing SDLP-Sinn Fein-dissident clamour for his release.

Mr Coveney seemed to put himself on the side of this range of voices when he told the Dail that his officials had visited Taylor in Maghaberry twice, including recently.

He is taking Taylor at his word. He said: “I am aware that Mr Taylor has publicly renounced any future engagement in dissident republican activity.”

Mr Coveney also said: “Having been in Derry last week, I appreciate how [Taylor’s detention] is contributing negatively to community tensions in an unwelcome way.”

Most troubling of all he said nationalist-republican concerns have “been reflected in our ongoing engagement with the NIO on the matter”.

What, I wonder, is the NIO response to such ‘engagement’?

In public London is silent when Dublin agitates for nationalists. It was silent when Ireland delighted republicans by taking the ‘Hooded Men’ case to Strasbourg’s European Court of Human Rights, where it was roundly humiliated when all judges (except the Irish one) rejected its retrospective bid to have the treatment deemed torture.

That was a perfect chance for a British minister to welcome the decision of a court that often makes it harder for governments to protect their populations from terror.

It was an opportunity also to criticise explicitly Dublin in a way that Dublin routinely explicitly criticises London over Brexit. But no.

However, we report today that Karen Bradley has rejected a request to discuss Taylor with Derry City and Strabane District Council.

Mrs Bradley told them: “I have no power to overturn this decision and it would be inappropriate to comment further and inappropriate to have a meeting at this time.”

This is welcome, but why did she not contradict Mr Coveney last month, and express UK contempt for his intervention?

Even if she felt unable to comment on specifics of the case, it was an opportunity to reassure the public that London will protect life and property from terror, regardless of Dublin’s view on how this is done.

Do not forget the laughably slack application of bail policy in serious terrorist cases in Northern Ireland, which this newspaper has led the way in exposing, and about which London has again said little.

Unionists have seemed reticent about asking for anything in various talks, stretching back years, apart from an Ulster Scots Act that almost no-one wants. They seem just to respond to republican demands. It fuels a sense that they are determined above all to get MLAs back, while Sinn Fein plot long-term.

Well here is a simple red line unionists should make, and which London should fully endorse: That there will be no devolution here, or certainly no devolution of policing and justice (ie the power will be taken back by London if need be, in much the way Madrid does if its regional parliaments cross boundaries), unless there is unequivocal support by all government ministers for the sort of law and order measures that are demanded by other western nations, now that those societies too fear terrorism.

Yet not only is there no hint of that red line, Mr Coveney is likely to be back at Stormont soon.

Will he again ‘jointly’ preside over talks after his intervention on behalf of Taylor, after his demand for an Irish language act, and after leading such an unbending position on Brexit-border that the whole UK strategy is on the brink of collapse?

Will Mrs Bradley again be standing neutral and effectively silent — just as demanded by nationalist Ireland?

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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