Christmas anguish for family of Irish prisoner of conscience


The family of Derry republican prisoner Tony Taylor have said that it will be a ‘very rough Christmas’ without him.

Mr Taylor’s wife Lorraine has written an open letter to the Six County Justice Minister Claire Sugden and British governor in Ireland James Brokenshire to ask why her husband is still in jail.

He has been on remand in Maghaberry since March 2016 following the revoking of his licence by then British governor Theresa Villiers.

At the time, Villiers’ office said his prison release was overturned ‘because of the risk he posed to the public’. Mr Taylor had been released under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which allows for released prisoners to be returned to jail.

In the letter, Mrs Taylor says her husband woud ‘spend Christmas in jail, without either him or us knowing why’.

She said her children will be affected by the loss of their father at Christmas, especially their son Bliain, who is disabled.

“Our two girls are heart sore worrying about their daddy,” said Mrs Taylor.

“The biggest loser in all of this is our seriously-disabled son Bliain, who just dotes on his daddy - his main carer.”

She said Mr Taylor’s parents were of an advanced age and had suffered ill health.

She said since his last spell in prison Mr Taylor had told her that he would pursue a ‘peaceful political agenda’.

She ended the letter by making a direct appeal to those in power. “Could someone, anyone, just please tell me, why is my husband in jail?”


The following is the full text of the open letter by the Taylor family.


Though we will certainly try and pretend otherwise, this is going to be a very rough Christmas for all of us.

Tony Taylor - my loving husband, devoted father to our three children Nicole, Bliain and Ellie-Jo, and caring son to his elderly parents Willie and Veronica - will spend Christmas in jail, without either him or us knowing why.

As his wife, I will miss him terribly; I will miss his friendship, his love and his support; his smiling face under a paper hat at the dinner table; playing games with our children.

Our two girls are heart sore worrying about their daddy. There will be no Christmas hugs or gift-swapping or pulling crackers - just a short time on a phone before he is locked back into a small cell. There will, undoubtedly, be a visit at some stage, but the cold artificial and public nature of it, and the level of stress it brings, contrast starkly with the warmth of our family home.

The biggest loser in all of this is our seriously-disabled son Bliain, who just dotes on his daddy - his main carer. He misses his father so much; it hurts to look at him. And his heartache is compounded by the fact that he hasn’t been able to see Tony recently, due to punitive restrictions on his visits. And those visits, given the extent of Bliain’s disabilities, and his constant pining for his father, are fraught enough already.

Tony’s parents meanwhile are both in their seventies, and both have suffered serious health problems in the last few years. Tony himself, who spends any free time he has looking after them, worries non-stop about them - as they do about him.

I’m not naive about what is going on. My husband has been a republican activist for most of his life and has spent previous spells in prison. There are some very important points I’d like to emphasise here. Since his last spell in jail, Tony has made it clear to me and others that he will pursue a peaceful political agenda. If there is evidence against Tony, as is claimed it should be produced immediately so he might have the right to challenge it in a court of law. Alternatively, if there is no evidence, Tony should be released immediately. The idea that he can be held on a ‘say-so’, without being given even the opportunity to put forward his case, is such a fundamental breach of human rights that it beggars belief.

It is not just Tony who is being punished here - the entire Taylor family is.

Others can (and should) highlight the legislative and political abuses taking place here - the fact that my husband’s continued imprisonment runs counter to any system in the civilised world.

But for us, the Taylor family, all of that takes second place. Because, on a simple human level, what we will have this Christmas Day in our home is three young children, two loving elderly parents and a broken-hearted wife looking at Tony’s chair at the table, and wondering why no-one will tell us why it’s empty.

Could someone, anyone, just please tell me, why is my husband in jail?

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