Unionists have lashed out at the 26 County Minister for Foreign Affairs after he raised the two-year internment of republican prisoner Tony Taylor in the Dublin parliament.
Simon Coveney addressed the issue following a recent visit he made to Mr Taylor’s home city of Derry. It came as it emerged that Mr Taylor will not now get a new parole hearing until the autumn, more than a year since he last had the opportunity to seek release.
A former chairperson of Republican Network for Unity, Mr Taylor was convicted on IRA charges in 1994 befor being released under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. He served a three year sentence for possession of a rifle before being summarily interned by the British Direct Ruler in March 2016.
Mr Coveney told the parliament his officials have visited Mr Taylor in Maghaberry twice, including in the last few weeks.
“I am aware that Mr Taylor has publicly renounced any future engagement in dissident republican activity,” he said.
“I have received a letter from his wife, Lorraine, and I am aware of their difficult family circumstances.
“I am also aware that there is a level of concern in the nationalist and republican community in Northern Ireland about the basis for and nature of Mr Taylor’s ongoing detention. They have all been reflected in our ongoing engagement with the NIO on the matter.
“The recent indication that Mr Taylor’s new parole hearing may take much longer than expected is of particular concern as he has now been in detention for over two years without being charged with or convicted of any new offence...
“There are legal sensitivities of which we must be aware, but I understand the growing concern about this matter.
“Having been in Derry last week, I appreciate how it is contributing negatively to community tensions in an unwelcome way.”
Mr Coveney pledged to write to the current British Direct Ruler, Karen Bradley, and to broach the issue with her personally.
“We will continue to raise the concerns that have been raised in this House,” he said. “They are legitimate.”
The public campaign of support has the support of a wide cross-section of political, church, trade union and community leaders as well as a number of local councils.
But DUP MP Gregory Campbell said Mr Coveney’s department “should not be getting involved”.
“It wasn’t his place to do that, it’s not in his brief,” he declared. He described the political prisoner as a “convicted terrorist”.
Mr Taylor’s lawyer Aidan Carlin who represents the high profile Republican said: “The Northern Ireland Office has publicly said it is for the Parole Commissioners to consider whether Tony Taylor should serve the remainder of his sentence in prison. The law provides for the Parole Commissioners to regulate their own procedure in dealing with any matter as they consider appropriate.
“Given the nature and extent of the Parole Commissioners’ general powers, it has been submitted that the Parole Commissioners should recommend Tony Taylor’s immediate release rather than go through a very lengthy process until Autumn.”
Mr Carlin said the Parole Commissioners had so far refused all calls to recommend Tony Taylor’s release.
He explained: “Their refusal is considered unlawful as it is contrary to section 6 of the Human Rights Act (1998) read together with articles 5(1) and 5(4) ECHR. In particular, future indecision represents an unreasonable delay in the context of rights to liberty.
“Tony Taylor was not returned to prison by a judge. In fact, the Public Prosecution Service considered a file submitted by police two years ago following his arrest and concluded that Tony Taylor is to face no new charges.”