An interview by ‘Street Voice’ with Roisin Lynch, the partner of ailing prisoner Brendan Lillis and head of the campaign to release him before he dies in jail.
SV: First off can you tell our readers a little bit about Brendan as a person?
Roisin Lynch: As a person he comes from a big family. He’s got a quiet nature. He’s very intellectual and very knowledgeable. Brendan is really gentle and loves kids. He is a very loyal friend and a good member to his family. He has a great respect for his mother, father and to the wider community. To me he’s just a fantastic person.
SV: How long have you been fighting for Brendan to have him released?
Roisin Lynch: It’s almost two years. Two years in October.
SV: Has Brendan been ill all that time and are the British Government / Prison Service still not backing down?
Roisin Lynch: They’re still not backing down and had that before he went into jail. Brendan has ‘Ankylosing Spondylitis’ which is a type of arthritis that affects the spine and bone parts. The first part of the condition is the body creates calcium which produces extra bone which adds itself to other parts of the body especially when you’re lying in the same position. One of the major things for that condition is mobility as you have to move about a lot.
When Brendan was arrested on the 16th October 2009 right up until to when he was eventually found on the cell floor where he’d been left I’d been in contact with the jail up to 40 times a day. He’s in an ordinary cell, sleeping on an ordinary cell bed and I’ve had to make them aware of what will happen if he doesn’t move about. I’ve given them all the information on the condition and it’s been completely disregarded?
SV: Sinn Fein and the IRA have been pretty quiet about Brendan’s case. Any opinion on this baring in mind Brendan was fighting the same cause? Are you angered with them being so quiet?
Roisin Lynch: I’m angry to an extent but I also understand the political situation here. I mean from the Good Friday Agreement anybody who’s done anything after the agreement isn’t seen as a political prisoner anymore. The demands the Hunger Strikers died for in 1981 no longer stands in Northern Ireland. The people who still fight the cause and now seen as criminals. They’re not seen as part of any organisation.
You know the word dissident is thrown around quite a lot? I have no affiliation with no group or any organisations. Brendan had already been in jail for 17 years before I met him but we never discussed what he was in jail for. I knew it was for IRA activity and because of the strength of our relationship and being loyal Brendan doesn’t have to step down and tell me everything. Nor do I expect him too!
To me what Brendan has done in the past is done and dusted.
SV: [We moved on to the ongoing situation in the North of Ireland itself].
Roisin Lynch: Brendan came from an area where trouble kicked off from both sides of the community and houses were being burnt down. It was hard for any man in that area not to want to get up and defend you own family, your street and your community. It was hard to take a back seat.
A lot of people lived a life where they were either jailed or died on both sides of the community it was hard not to get involved. There’s a lot of very young people getting into these things especially after the Good Friday Agreement. What way is left? You go back to jail, you become you’re never going to get qualifications and you’re never going to get a job. No ones going to employ you. On both sides of the divide you’re very much left on your own.
People become institutionalised and there’s different aspects like drinking problems, O.C.D., living in small confined places and having everything in it’s place. I noticed some of that with Brendan. A lot of stuff he does is done regimentally.
There’s not a lot of support network on both sides of the community for these people. What’s going on here is people on both sides of the fence think they’re right and it’s very hard to move forward.
SV: How have you been coping yourself since all this began?
Roisin Lynch: Take a every day at a time really. I’m a bit run down from the hunger strike and have had to go to the doctors for it. I’ve also had a bit of a chest infection. A bit like a roller coaster - Up and Down - Up and Down. I’ve learned this past year that nothing is final until Brendan is an ambulance and the jail is behind him. I believe nothing until I actually see that.
SV: Are you still on hunger strike yourself?
Roisin Lynch: No I did 5 days. It was a token hunger strike to raise awareness for the position that Brendan is in today. It was never some long term tactic or anything like that. Through that we received 10,000 signatures and 2000 visitors to the site alone. There were 600 people out for the talk that myself and a few others give about Brendan’s condition so it was successful.
SV: I believe your visits are monitored? Don’t you get any time with Brendan alone?
Roisin Lynch: The prison guards sit outside the door. As for time alone he knows I’m there and there are times when he’s awake we can have a chat. On the phone the other night he had to cut the call short because of his sore arm. When holding the phone his arm can get sore very easy. You don’t get care or compassion in jail. When I saw Brendan yesterday I had to pull the chair over and lean over in front of the guard to kiss his forehead. He can’t move himself and I have to lean over being careful as he’s very sore. Jail is just not good.
SV: Being a very dignified and caring person you don’t want anyone causing trouble to try and further Brendan’s cause do you?
Roisin Lynch: Absolutely not! If anybody wants to cause trouble they aren’t doing it in the name of Brendan. The people who have been with Brendan and myself have been very successful raising concern for Brendan’s plight. We don’t want anyone going out in our community or anybody else’s causing trouble. We want no trouble brought to the streets. Leave it in the hands of the political people and let them sort it out. It might not be as fast as what others would like. Anyone causing trouble will have absolutely no support from me as I am very much against it.
SV: Brendan was an IRA soldier so do you think that is the reason he has been left to rot in jail?
Roisin Lynch: Absolutely! I absolutely believe that this is the reason he is being kept in. Around three years ago when the Loyalist threat was high there were still more Republican prisoners having their licences revoked. When you have your licence revoked. Revoked means you have to do your time again. So Brendan had to do his 17 years again even though he couldn’t be brought to court and those charges can never be brought to light.
SV: Have you got a message for the British Government and the Northern Irish Prison service?
Roisin Lynch: Get your heads together and do something. Be humanitarian. Don’t be making it political. All the people that support the peace process and want it. This isn’t doing anybody any good whatsoever. Brendan is no threat to anybody. They need to show some compassion and leadership. They need to do something here because the first man that dies in jail I have got no control as I’m a working class woman in her forties. Have some control. I don’t want any backlash. I just want my partner home. I just want to be able to make him cups of tea and to hug him. I want him to know I’m here for him. I want him to see more than a cell door. He has slept on his one side for 600 days and he sees absolutely nothing but a cell door.
SV: Anything you’d like to add?
Roisin Lynch: Just there’s good people in this world supporting Brendan. They are ordinary day to day people like me. Brendan hasn’t been part of any organisation for the past 20 years. Brendan’s lost a big part of his life in jail already. Whatever time Brendan has left at least let him spend that time with me.