Blanketman on the threshold
Blanketman on the threshold

Supporters of critically ill Maghaberry prisoner Brendan Lillis are to stage a hunger protest in a last-ditch attempt to convince the Stormont and British authorities to release him from prison before he dies.

His partner Roisin Lynch will be joined by former comrades from Brendan’s days on the Blanket protest in the late 70s, as well as other former prisoners and concerned individuals.

The action is designed to highlight the lack of any movement in securing his release, even as his condition, a debilitating illness known as ankylosing spondylitis, has deteriorated.

It begins at noon on Thursday at the site of the old Andersonstown Barracks in west Belfast and is due to last three days.

Meanwhile, a long-awaited meeting tomorrow [Tuesday] with the Parole Commission, which has the power to grant Brendan a possible parole, is now being described as a planning meeting only.

In recent weeks, the Six County Minister for Justice and the Office of the Prisoner Ombudsman have both denied being responsibility for Mr Lillis’s continued suffering, and appeared to have washed their hands of the matter.

His partner now believes that, unless there is significant public pressure for his release, the only way Brendan will emerge from prison is in a coffin.


A former Irish republican political prisoner who served a life sentence as a result of his role in the armed struggle, Brendan served 16 years for possession of explosives and firearms.

B.L., as he was known to his friends and comrades, was released on license in 1992. While in prison he took part in the many protests against the British government’s criminalisation policy.

In 2009 he appeared in court on a robbery-related charge, a charge which was not proceeded with.

Nevertheless, shortly after his arrest on this charge, the British government withdrew his license, which automatically reactivated his life sentence. He is now one of a number of former prisoners returned to jail -- interned -- not for any act they have committed, but because the authorities claim they may commit an offence at some time in the future.

His supporters have argued that he is a prisoner of conscience, serving a life sentence only for being a perceived threat to the status quo.

At the weekend, Derry-based Sinn Fein Assembly member Raymond McCartney issued a statement calling for his immediate release.

Speaking after a visit to Maghaberry, he said: “Sinn Fein is totally opposed to former political prisoners being held in prison by revoking their licence.

“Now that the charges against Brendan Lillis are not being brought forward he should be released immediately.

“Given the urgency of Brendan Lillis’ very serious medical condition in the prison hospital, I would appeal for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds.”

“Sinn Fein has been in contact with the Department of Justice and the Sentence Review Commission and we have called on them to deal with this case without delay.”

In a statement issued through his partner, Roisin Lynch, the campaign for his release said tonight:

“Brendan Lillis is no threat to anybody.

“Brendan Lillis is dying and has been abandoned by an entire political system which is more interested in making statements about his condition than in applying their political power to remedy the situation.”

They called for his immediate release “so that whatever time Brendan has left on this earth be spent with his immediate family. Brendan Lillis can not walk, he can not get up from his bed. He is incapacitated, and he is being left alone to die in a prison cell.

“We have seen enough of our people die in prison cells and find the manner in which Brendan is being treated as an obscenity... We call on all people concerned with this grave injustice to come along [to the Andersonstown protest] on Thursday, Friday or Saturday and register your support for a sick and dying man being held hostage by a vindictive and punitive regime.”


Supporters have called for emails to seek the release of Mr Lillis to be sent to the Parole Commission at, to the British Direct Ruler Owen Paterson at, the Six-County Minister for Justice David Ford at, and to the Prisoner Ombudsman, Pauline McCabe at

International protests are also being organised by campaigners, including a 24-hour picket outside the House of Commons from noon Wednesday.

In the US, the Irish Freedom Committee is urging all supporters of Irish republican prisoners to place a short phone call to Maghaberry Prison Medical Center, and to the Washington DC and local British consulates, to appeal for the immediate humanitarian release of Brendan Lillis.

Calling Maghaberry overseas from the United States - use a calling card and a land line for your minimum expense. Phone 011-44-28-9261-1888. Ask to be transferred to the Medical Center, and ask to speak to Doctor Palmer. Time zones in the US are behind Irish 5 hours on the East Coast, 6 hours Central US, 7 hours Southwest, and 8 hours in Pacific Northwest. Ideally you should ring between 9AM and 3PM Irish time.

Ask that the British consulate intervene immediately to grant compassionate parole to a dying prisoner at Maghaberry jail, Antrim in the North of Ireland, who has been bedridden for two years and who poses a threat to no-one, and that all charges stemming from his 2009 arrest have been dropped.

British Embassy,
3100 Massachusetts Ave, NW,
Washington DC 20008

Telephone: (1)(202) 588 6500 Embassy
(1)(202) 588 7800 Consular
(1)(202) 588 7830 British Council

For other British Consulates in the USA and around the world, please see:

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© 2011 Irish Republican News