McGuinness backs Lillis release
Members of the two main nationalist parties in the North are to join the partner of critically ill prisoner Brendan Lillis in a meeting with the Six-County Justice Minister later today [Wednesday] to plead for his release from Maghaberry jail on compassionate grounds.
Roisin Lynch is to meet David Ford as pressure mounts for Mr Lillis’s release. The former republican political prisoner -- who took part in the blanket protest at the time of the 1981 hunger strike -- was summarily jailed by British decree almost two years ago following his arrest over an unrelated incident.
After originally joining the IRA as a young man, the 59-year-old is still being punished by the Stormont and Westminster regimes for a sentence imposed for possessing IRA explosives at the height of the conflict in 1976.
There were stinging comments by Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness ahead of today’s meeting, in which he accused the British government’s revocation of Mr Lillis’s licence in 2009 as “reminiscent of internment without trial”.
As Mr Lillis’ condition has deteriorated in recent months, the Deputy First Minister has come under growing pressure to act on behalf of his former comrade.
“I have on several occasions expressed my opposition directly to [British Direct Ruler Owen] Paterson in regard to the British government’s use of this tactic,” he said.
“There can be no doubt that Brendan Lillis is seriously ill and does not represent a threat to anyone.”
Concerns have been expressed that Mr Lillis’s death could unleash a wave of public anger which could threaten the new political institutions in the North.
Mr McGuinness insisted yesterday that it was Minister Ford who had the ability to order the release.
Ford has previously stated that Mr Lillis’s plight is a matter for the Life Sentence Review Commission [Parole Commission].
“It is crystal clear that Mr Ford has the power to release Brendan Lillis on compassionate and humanitarian grounds,” Mr McGuinness said.
“The advice I have received states that David Ford has the legal power to act and is not accountable to the Life Sentence Review Commission.
“I trust that David Ford will take the right decision on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.”
Mr Lillis has been confined to his prison bed for more than 600 days. The joints of of his spine have fused together and he is unable to eat due to nausea and stomach pain.
An independent doctor and a journalist who accompanied Roisin on a prison visit yesterday [Tuesday] were visibly shocked by his deeply emaciated condition and intermittent loss of consciousness.
The doctor is preparing a report to the authorities which is understood to urge his release on medical grounds.
There has also been pressure from the US, where the national President of the powerful Ancient Order of Hibernians, Seamus Boyle added his voice to appeals for a humanitarian solution.
“It is time the Irish, British Government and the Political parties in Northern Ireland find the guts to say enough is enough,” he said.
He called for the authorities to release Mr Lillis “now, before they have another disaster like we had 30 years ago when we lost 10 heroes.
“For God’s sake, wake up, this a human being suffering and who will definitely die if action is not taken immediately. Animals are treated better than Brendan is being treated at the moment. Irish America is watching and waiting for the right thing to be done.”
A number of US politicians are also understood to be engaging in behind-the-scenes activity on the case, while a letter from members of the Italian government is to be released later today in support of Mr Lillis’s release.
Last week, unionist hardliner Gregory Campbell of the DUP backed the the former blanketman’s continued imprisonment, urging the Six-County Department of Justice to “resist political pressure”.
“Brendan Lillis is a terrorist and a criminal who was responsible for a number of serious crimes,” he said.
So far, Minister Ford has insisted Mr Lillis’s condition is not life-threatening and does not warrant intervention.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice has confirmed that Mr Ford is holding a meeting later today with his partner, Sinn Fein and the SDLP to discuss the case. However, the spokesman said that, at present, there has been no change to the minister’s position.