Ireland: Free Tony Taylor — held for two years without charge

Jailed Derry community activist Tony Taylor.

March 10, 2016, was a typical late winter day in Derry, the second-largest city in the six counties of Ireland still under British rule. Forty-eight-year-old Tony Taylor, a well-liked and respected community activist, was on a shopping outing with his wife and children to the Crescent Link Retail Park.

Suddenly the family car was stopped and surrounded by police cars. Taylor was taken away without any explanation and brought straight to Maghaberry prison – without questioning, charge or trial. He was denied legal representation and given no specifics as to why he was being jailed. He was simply picked up and placed behind bars.

More than two years later, he is still there today. He has still never been charged or tried.

Taylor has a wife, two teenage daughters and a son, who has physical and mental disabilities and suffers from epilepsy. They were traumatised by his arrest.

Taylor’s continued absence is devastating. His disabled son is totally dependent now on his mother, who herself is physically and emotionally drained from her husband’s detention and long-term absence.

Taylor has suffered periods of punishment and solitary confinement in Maghaberry prison. Medications have been denied to him. He has been torn from his family and his community — despite public support for him from community leaders, the Derry City Council and leading politicians.

He is facing years behind bars. Supporters from Ireland and around the world have joined the “Free Tony Taylor” campaign to call for his release.

Yet British ears remain deaf to their outrage, while British eyes remain blind to the demands of justice. In Taylor’s part of Ireland, that is business as usual.

Why is Taylor still in Maghaberry prison? No charges have been brought against him. No evidence of wrongdoing has ever been presented. No detailed explanation has ever been provided for his continued incarceration.

The reason Taylor is in prison is that the powers-that-be want to shut him up, isolate him from his community and bury him in a jail cell. The reasons why require a deeper look at Taylor and British law as it applies to the six counties.

Taylor is defiantly opposed to British rule in any part of Ireland and has been for all of his life. He is also a leader, a tireless community worker and someone whose voice is listened to and respected.

In other words, he is someone the British fear.

In 1994, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he was seriously injured in a premature explosion in Derry. He was subsequently released under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

In March 2014, after almost three years on remand (imprisoned without bail while awaiting trial) in Maghaberry prison, Taylor was convicted and sentenced to eight years — three in custody and five out of prison but on a “supervised license” – for republican activity.

When Taylor emerged from Maghaberry in August that year, he dedicated himself to rebuilding his life, while focusing his republican activism in the political arena — on community empowerment and prisoner welfare issues. He was instrumental in rebuilding the Republican Network for Unity political party in Derry.

In 2015, Taylor was detained by police and interviewed over two days about alleged republican activity. Taylor said the timing of his arrest was deliberate and intended to prevent him from leading a protest in Derry that day against a police recruitment event.

After the interrogation, Taylor was unconditionally released by the police and his file was turned over to the public prosecutor’s office. Then in March 2016, he was picked up.

In July 2016, the prosecutor’s office announced that no charges were to be filed against Taylor. However, he was not released.

This is a case of a committed republican who, upon his release from jail, passionately involved himself in the politics of his city, and dedicated himself to his family and community. Is that not what he was supposed to do?

The government says there are no charges against him. No evidence is produced to justify his imprisonment. Yet he is still behind bars.

Welcome to the wonderful world of British law in Ireland.

The top British official in the six counties is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This official is appointed by the Queen of England at the recommendation of the British Prime Minister. The position was created in 1974 when London took over direct rule of the north. No Irish person has ever held the post — neither loyalist (supportive of British rule) nor nationalist (supportive of a united Ireland).

When it comes to prisoners and their license to be out of prison, the secretary’s word is law — literally. There is no due process or channel for oversight. The secretary has the only real and the final say in the matter.

There is a parole commission that makes recommendations, but its meetings are cloaked in secrecy. Their recommendations are forwarded to the secretary, but it is this appointed British official who makes the decision that, once made, is final.

The parole commission hearings are so secret that Taylor cannot even get access to them or their transcripts, even though they are a determining factor in his imprisonment.

The refusal to release Taylor is contrary to the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 2012, then-British Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Theresa Villiers, an English aristocrat Conservative MP for the North London constituency of Chipping Barnet, as the Northern Ireland Secretary of State. Villiers was so concerned about Ireland that throughout her tenure she spent three days a week in her London constituency.

In March 2016, it was Villiers who revoked Taylor’s licence and resisted all appeals for his freedom. The only explanation Villiers has ever given is that, in her opinion, he constituted “a public risk”.

Due process is one of the foundations of democracy and is a human right. No government should be able to jail someone based on the whim of an appointed official. No system that calls itself “fair” should allow that to happen.

Taylor has been denied legal aid to have a judicial review into his incarceration. He faces costs of up to £10,000 in a blatant move to keep a community activist off the streets.

Taylor deserves to be free. The British need to be put on notice that the jailing of Irish people “just because” is not acceptable.

[Find out more at freetonytaylor.com.]

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