Seanad debates

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

2:30 pm

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Tánaiste. I thank the Tánaiste for taking the time to come to the Chamber. I know he is very busy, so I appreciate his presence to debate the issue I am raising.

I submitted this Commencement matter after last week's meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement which heard from Mr. Peter Bunting and Mr. Conal McFeely of the independent assessment team. They repeated their general frustration that the case of Tony Taylor is not getting the public attention it deserves. Given that over two years have passed since the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of Mr. Taylor, our view is that his continued detention is wrong and a violation of his human rights. We have consistently stated that if there is evidence against Mr. Taylor, it should be presented to him and his legal team in open court. I contend that the most basic right of those who find themselves in prison, particularly for such a prolonged period of time, is to have an opportunity to address and challenge any evidence or any case against them, if such evidence or such a case exists.

As the Tánaiste will be aware, the problem is that we are being asked to place our trust and our faith in faceless secret British intelligence agencies and services. The same people have refused to release their files on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I suggest that these obscure outlets are not exactly the most trustworthy. Therefore, it is appropriate that any evidence that exists is not kept hidden and is instead put before Mr. Taylor in court.

Over the past two years, the British Government has failed to produce any evidence that could justify Mr. Taylor's continued detention in any way. We have to appreciate the strain this continued detention is placing on Mr. Taylor's wife and on members of his family, including his parents. I believe their public description of their stress has shifted this case from the political domain, where it warrants much concern, to the humanitarian and human rights sphere.

I appreciate the Tánaiste's attendance today. I was moved to submit this Commencement matter by the frustration of reputable and eminent figures like Mr. Bunting and Mr. McFeely, who are very frustrated about the lack of publicity, focus and attention being given to the case of this Irish citizen. I hope that through the Tánaiste, we can lift their frustrations and bring the case of Tony Taylor into a warranted public space where we can challenge the very real political and legal concerns that exist regarding his case and his ongoing detention.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am grateful to Senator Ó Donnghaile for raising this important matter. Last week, I had an opportunity to brief the Dáil on my engagement regarding Mr. Taylor's case. I assure the House that my officials have been engaging with this matter on an ongoing basis.

The background to the Tony Taylor case is that he is from Derry and in recent years was a member of a dissident republican group. In 1994, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he was seriously injured in a premature explosion in Derry. He was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. He served a further three-year sentence from 2011 to 2014 for possession of a rifle.In March 2016, he was returned to prison after his early release licence was suspended by the then Secretary of State, Ms Theresa Villiers.

Mr. Taylor’s case has been discussed regularly with the Northern Ireland Office through my officials at the Belfast secretariat. My officials have also made visits to Mr. Taylor in Maghaberry Prison on two occasions, most recently in the past few weeks. I have written to the Secretary of State, Ms Karen Bradley, on the case and I spoke to her on the matter when we met in London last Thursday.

The Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland held a parole hearing on Mr. Taylor’s revocation of licence in May 2017. The decision of the parole commissioners at that time was to continue the revocation of licence. A further review by the parole commissioners is under way and there had been an expectation that the review would conclude in the coming weeks. However, we understand from discussions with the Northern Ireland Office and Mr. Taylor’s legal representatives that there may be some delay in that process. This is clearly not ideal and we have urged that every effort be made to avoid unnecessary delays.

I am aware that Mr. Taylor has publicly renounced any future engagement in dissident republican activity. That is to be welcomed as there is no future on this island for political ends to be pursued through violence or the threat of violence. I have also received a letter from Mr. Taylor's wife, Lorraine, and I am aware of the couple's difficult family circumstances. I am also aware, as Senator Ó Donnghaile indicated, that there is considerable concern in Northern Ireland across the broad nationalist and republican community about the basis and nature of Mr. Taylor's ongoing detention. These have all been reflected in our ongoing engagement with the Northern Ireland Office on this matter.

The recent indications that Mr. Taylor’s new parole hearing may take longer than expected is of particular concern, as he has been back in detention for more than two years without being charged or convicted of any offences. I assure Senators that I and my officials will continue to actively monitor developments in the case and will continue to raise it with the Northern Ireland Office, including, as necessary, the Secretary of State.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I appreciate the update from the Tánaiste and acknowledge the work he and his officials are doing regarding the case of Mr. Tony Taylor. The concerns around this case, while predominately emanating from the nationalist and republican constituency, extend throughout a broad spectrum of humanitarian and legal organisations as well as the legal profession in general. This is effectively a case of internment via remand, which warrants a great deal of concern.

I appreciate the Tánaiste's comment that his officials are keeping a watching brief on the issue. His statement will be welcomed by all those inside and outside the Oireachtas who have an interest in the case. I also share his concern regarding recent indications of a delay in the case, whether intentional or otherwise. Is this position satisfactory? What measures can the Tánaiste take above and beyond monitoring the issue? I am not asking him to step outside the constraints within which he must operate.

I was reminded on my journey from Belfast to Dublin this morning that the average period of internment for those interned between 1971 and 1975 was two years. Tony Taylor now finds himself in prison without evidence being put to him or his legal team for more than two years. I thank the Tánaiste again for taking the time to come to the House.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is important to put this case in context. It is also appropriate in this debate that we call on all dissident republican groups that have not yet done so to renounce violence and commit to exclusively democratic means of pursuing their political aims. I pay tribute to An Garda Síochána for its ongoing work in dealing with the threat posed by dissident republican groups.

On the case in question, the dissident republican group to which Mr. Tony Taylor was connected has made clear statements renouncing violence, which I welcome. I do not know whether information is held on Mr. Taylor that can justify him being in prison.We have raised our concerns about the case. Holding somebody without publicly producing evidence against them raises real concerns, as I have witnessed in Derry in speaking to people. I have raised the matter directly with the Secretary of State and will be talking to her again this week. There is a process under consideration with the parole commissioners. That is the appropriate process to use in making any decision in this case. I hope we can ensure decisions will be made without further delay.