Saturday 1 November 2014

McKevitt joins prisoners seeking early release after High Court ruling

Ray Managh

Published 09/08/2014 | 02:30

Michael McKevitt
Michael McKevitt

Prisoners who claim they are entitled to have their sentences cut by a third due to remission are lining up to seek their release from jail.

Michael McKevitt, the first person in Irish history to be jailed for directing terrorism - and the reputed leader of the Real IRA - is among those claiming he should have already been released from jail.

The surge in prisoners seeking release follows a recent High Court decision to free "self-acknowledged IRA prisoner" Niall Farrell.

Earlier this week, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan ordered the immediate release from Portlaoise Prison of Farrell, on the grounds he had not been given proper consideration by the prison authorities for a one-third remission of sentence.

Yesterday, Senior Counsel Michael O'Higgins made a High Court application on behalf of McKevitt seeking his release.

Mr O'Higgins told Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan that on the reading of Judge Hogan's judgment, McKevitt ought to have been released on July 26.

Senior Counsel John Aylmer also made an application for the release of Joe Kirwan, another Portlaoise prisoner.

Mr Aylmer told the court Mr Kirwan had been sentenced in December 2013 to six years, with four years suspended, on conviction of possession of explosives in suspicious circumstances.

Both applications will be fully opened at the High Court next Tuesday and more prisoner applications are expected next week.

Judge Hogan, in a reserved judgment, stated that Farrell's successful application was based on an entitlement to enhanced remission of one-third of his sentence, where under prison rules he had been of good conduct and had engaged in authorised structure activities to prepare him for release and re-integration into society.

Conduct

He had been sentenced by the Special Criminal Court in December 2011 to five years for membership of an illegal organisation and it was only fair to say he had been of exemplary conduct since. The judge said Farrell had spent the entirety of his sentence on the E2 landing of Portlaoise Prison, where all of the prisoners were self-acknowledged members of an illegal organisation styling itself as the "Irish Republican Army".

He said that of the 14 prisoners on the landing, six were rostered to work on any given day on food management and cleaning.

Farrell had completed a series of courses while in prison.

He had also honoured three temporary releases.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald had opposed Farrell's release, on the grounds he had not engaged with the Probation Services with a view to reducing the risk of re-offending and had chosen to associate with other members of an illegal organisation in the E-block of Portlaoise Prison.

Judge Hogan said the scheme of the Prison Rules ordained that prisoners should generally engage in regular authorised structured activity for 25 hours each week.

It followed that where a prisoner participated successfully in such activities, the Minister would be obliged to conclude he was less likely to re-offend, triggering the enhanced remission provisions.

Judge Hogan said it was not disputed that Farrell participated successfully in authorised structured activities and this very fact must, by definition, have rendered him less likely to re-offend.

"In truth, once Mr Farrell successfully participated in the authorised structured activities, he was entitled to such enhanced remission," Judge Hogan stated.

"On the basis he ought to have been released on April 1, 2014, it follows he is currently in unlawful custody and I must direct his immediate release."

Irish Independent

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