Running Out Of Time

Brendan Lillis is a prisoner who suffers from a debilitating illness known as ankylosing spondylitis. He is seriously ill; so serious in fact that those closest to him are of the view that he is dying. His partner informed a meeting in Derry a few evenings back that it was her view he that could be dead within ten days. Some sources within the Northern Ireland Prison Service are thought to be of a similar mind. If so it does not leave much time.

Why Brendan Lillis continues to be held in Maghaberry Prison by British prison authorities for activity he carried out while a member of the Provisional IRA in the 1970s is understood but rarely acknowledged. The initial robbery charges that led to his life sentence licence being revoked in 2009 have since been withdrawn. There is no reason specific to him that would justify his continued detention. He is a pawn in a wider political game, one of those exceptions that proves the rule, British rule.

Despite the ground that Northern society is supposed to have covered since the end of the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle, there are buried beneath that ground issues that few want to talk about; issues that were supposed to have been resolved by the new dispensation; issues that were red hot when the IRA campaign was in full throttle and were often cited as reasons that legitimised the use of arms.

Consequently a man, whose energy and activity were ingredients in the fuel that drove republican activism forward, who was part of the arduous blanket protest, and whose investment in the republican project has been used to purchase the current political arrangement, is now banged up because of it. He is in the custody of the same prison service as before, being subjected to the same rights abuses as before, and seemingly being left to die, like others before. In blatant contradiction of its own guidelines outlined in its Corporate and Business Plan the Northern Ireland Prison Service is not providing Brendan Lillis with a health regime appropriate to his needs.

Brendan Lillis is now reputed to weigh little more than 5 stone. He has been confined to bed for 600 days. He receives 40 tablets a day for his condition. The Life Sentence Review Commission has tried to postpone a date for a hearing of his case, meaning he is to be shackled to the system that is killing him that much longer. Each day that this grave situation is permitted to continue a little bit of Brendan Lillis dies.

This former blanket protestor will emerge from prison one way or the other. The British Government knows it cannot hold onto him for much longer. But it seems confident it can hold onto him until such times as his case becomes the legal remit of the coroner. This is vindictive and born of mean spirit.

Whatever about the political connotations interweaved with this case there is one very salient feature that cannot be suppressed. A very sick man is being held in prison and is likely to die there. The humanitarian grounds for releasing him far outweigh the political considerations that are feeding into his ongoing imprisonment.

The party best placed to bring pressure to bear is Sinn Fein. Despite its claims to have been in the prison on seven occasions in the past year, its sole achievement is to have been in the prison seven times. It has produced little in the way of progress. In fact after its seven visits the situation if anything has deteriorated. It can get itself into prison seven times but cannot get Brendan Lillis out once.

The party appears hesitant to go at the issue in a full blown and public manner because to do so would flag up that because of its failure to deliver substantive gains the British are still able to use a weapon of political policing to detain Brendan Lillis. And it is not that Brendan Lillis is being held for political views that he holds but as a warning to others as to what lies in store if they do not acquiesce.

This is a demonstration of British political power over republican impotence. It is an in-your-face assertion that the big issues on terms of conflict related imprisonment were never settled but conveniently parked in the British favour. And in order to prove the point the British are prepared to fire a coffin across the bows of its adversaries.


  1. What is 1970s about this:

  2. BL goes before the commissioner on Tuesday, a former member of the RUC/PSNI, to have his case reviewed. If he receives another knock back it will effectively amount to a death sentence for him.

    Presently, he is being fed through a tube and takes a cocktail of 50 tablets per day to manage his condition and side effects. He is under six stone and has been confined to bed for 600 days.

    In any other democratic country in the world this diabolical situation would produce a public outcry. But where are the politicians here willing to speak out on his behalf? You would think that among his many former friends and comrades one would have the decency and humanity to champion his cause. Calls for his release are useless if they are not followed by serious political action to secure his liberty.

    BL must be returned to his loving partner before it is too late.

  3. Well said Anthony and in Brendans case if nothing else how comprehensively the prm have be defeated and silenced,

  4. Colm,

    Brendan Lillis is not being held for that incident but I suspect you are not so stupid as to be unaware of this although I know you Workers Party people have been guilty of some mega stupid things. He is being held on one count - a 1970s life sentence.

    But even setting that aside, is the Workers Party toady attitude to the British state so deep rooted that it blinds itself to humanitarian issues? If a member of your one time armed wing was in a similar position it would be no more justified to hold him but I suppose in order to please the British you would demand that he die in jail.

  5. Marty,

    more important is the need to get this resolved. I see Lord Snooty is back. He will be apologizing on behalf of Catholics next that they were ever so bold as not to bow low enough.

  6. Alec,

    the problem is that when people go Stick they develop an abnormal sensitivity when confronted with anything republican. Look at Colonel Blimp here, for example. Many of BL's former comrades would open the trap door to ensure he made the drop. It was former comrades that the Staters killed. Be surprised by none of it.

  7. There appears to be an elements of spite and cruelty in all of this.
    Last year, Alec Maskey threatened to withdraw community support from the PSNI unless a civil servant was re-instated.
    Yet, they cannot stick their necks out to save a man's life.
    Hopefully, someone will act and act very quickly.

  8. Aye Nuala your correct but the civil servant you talk about wasnt just any 8-5 his brother is another very wealthy republican,isnt it wonderful how money helps people talk.whats happening to BL is a fucking disgrace and if it isnt resolved satisfactorily then I hope psf in particular are held to account.

  9. Marty,
    his brother was wealthy but stopped vey short of being a republican.
    I think, both he and the shinners got equal usage out of each other.
    Setting that aside, you are right Marty, it is a total disgrace that any person has to live an existence such as the one currently being experienced by Brendan Lillis.

  10. Marty,
    the debate had been going on between myself and an annoymous representative of Sinn Fein about the prison issue.
    Sean 'Spike' entered the debate to refute my claim, that eirigi polled better than Sinn Fein in the recent elections in Clonard.
    I am seriously interested in what he has to say and I intend to take this opportunity to get his response on other pressing issues.

  11. If we are talking about the same civil servant, an ex priest whose brother was James Carson,s partner (Jamsie was shot dead in his shop on top of the Donegal rd by psf,s new found friends.)his bro stood as psf,s candidate in Strangford in the Westminster elections and is another wealthy property developer based nowadays on the Malone rd (as one does hon)so thats is why imo Maskey was so vociferous in that particular case ,but as you say it will be interesting to see if spike responds to your request I doubt it,I mean hon what the hell can he honestly say?.

  12. Roisin Lynch, the partner of Brendan Lillis has just announced that:

    This is to inform all supporters of Brendan that a 3 day hunger strike will be commencing at 12pm on Thursday the 21st of July at the old site of Andersonstown police station. I am asking everyone who supports Brendan from a humanitarian stance to join with me on this protest. All are welcome, the blanket men, ex-prisoners, comrades of old and new, and all political parties; and of course the day to day people who have supported myself and Brendan from the start. Please make the effort. You can fast just for the time that you can spend on the camp. We are counting on you, save a life make a difference.

    Roisin & Brendan

  13. AM,

    Glad to see this is being highlighted.

    I shall be up on Thursday, and wish Roisin and Brendan all best wishes.

    Please God reason will prevail and this man will be released.

  14. Wouldn't waste time hoping for any SF morality. Way past any hope for that. But sure look at the MLA's, all in Stormont on the backs of family members either jailed or killed.

    O'Dowd calling people murderers and declaring 'we' aren't going back to war. He who was never part of it, turned up for the ceasefires.
    Dara O'Hagan in there coz of a 'famous' daddy. I could go on.

    Sad to say it, but it may take another prisoner death to make people realise what SF are.

    Lets hope not.

  15. Macker's your timely intervention in this matter is much appreciated. I think your blog reaches a different type of audience to the usual suspects. Should this man be let die in a prison hospital it will be a terrible blight on the political system. Maghaberry is becoming a graveyard for a growing number of prisoners both poltical and ODCs due to neglect and bad practices at the highest level. The institution is unfit for purpose and should therefore undergo the most radical root and branch reform.

    On the more pressing matter of BL he should be released without further delay in order to receive proper medical treatment and TLC from his partner and family.

  16. Alec,

    I hope you are right about the blog reaching somewhere. This is an issue that is so easily resolved. It should have been resolved as a matter of course and human decency. Now it requires lobbying and pressure.

  17. I wonder where Colm McGinn stands on the extradition of his former leader Sean Garland? Nothing 1970s about that!

  18. Mackers,
    Just wondering will the fast be continued through the night as I would find it much easier to attend in the late evenings?
    I read in the paper this morning that, the parole board do not believe Brendan meets the criteria for compassionate release, they must have redefined the meaning of compassion?

  19. Nuala,

    I presume it will run throughout the night.

  20. Fionnuala-

    Also read what that spokes-person
    for the parole commissioners had to say- the report also says that
    the commissioners are an independent body- which i find hard to believe- are any of their names known to the public or what their jobs were in the past- will these be the only people held accountable if Brendans family or partner goes to the courts- the
    commissioners know that Brendan
    should be allowed back to his loved ones- the Quicker this is done the better for them and who ever controls them-

  21. Papa waka,

    He will probably think ‘oh don’t be such a silly boy. I am such a superior person.’

    And the rest of us will do what we always do when faced with pompousness – heap ridicule on it.