SF meet with violent dissidents on visit to Maghaberry prison

Brendan McConville, pictured in 2009
Brendan McConville, pictured in 2009

A trio of Sinn Fein politicians have announced that they met with dissident republicans inside jail.

Three MLAs – Michaela Boyle, Pat Sheehan and Declan Kearney – issued a statement on Monday saying that they had been to Maghaberry prison this week “to get an insight in relation to the current prison environment”.

During the visit, the delegation met with Brendan McConville.

McConville was convicted of the killing of PSNI constable Stephen Carroll on March 9, 2009; a shooting which was referred to in the court judgement as the culmination of a “murderous terrorist plan”.

McConville – and co-conspirator John Paul Wootton (whose name Sinn Fein misspelled as “Wooton”) – had failed to give evidence to the court in their own defence when confronted with the evidence against them.

The judgement notes: “They have chosen to say nothing in relation to the case which is one which cries out for an explanation from each of them... If there were an innocent explanation they would have been easily capable of providing it to the court but chose not to do so.”

The Sinn Fein delegation also met Tony Taylor.

A spokesman for the dissident group the Republican Network for Unity, in 2014 Taylor had pleaded guilty to possessing a semi-automatic 597 Magnum rifle (following on from a previous terror-related conviction in 1994).

Following his subsequent release, his licence was revoked earlier this year by the Secretary of State.

In a statement after the visit, Sinn Fein said Taylor is being “wrongfully detained”, and that they had “serious concerns” about the conviction of McConville and Wootton.

The statement left open the possibility of more such visits in the future.

It concluded: “We will use this visit as the basis for further engagement with prison management and the Justice Department in relation to how prison reform should be maximised in the coming period.”

Sinn Fein have in recent years denounced the activities of dissident republicans.

Only around three weeks Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams himself issued a statement accusing dissident groups of conducting a “campaign against the community”.

In 2009, the year constable Carroll was murdered, Martin McGuinness had reportedly described dissidents as being “traitors to the island of Ireland”.