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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Bail For Sale - Nationalists Need Not Apply

A judge's duty is to grant justice, but his practice is to delay it: even those judges who know their duty adhere to the general practice - Jean de la Bruyere
Anthony McIntyre • 9 April 2004

The partisan discretion which has been exercised by the Northern Ireland judiciary since the inception of the state seems to have been alloyed little by the new dispensation we supposedly find ourselves in. At a recent High Court application made on behalf of West Belfast man, Tommy Tolan, compassionate bail was granted for a period of four hours so that the Ballymurphy man could visit his 11-year-old daughter in hospital where she was undergoing skin grafts to treat injuries sustained after being struck by a firework in the 1990s.

A maximum four hours bail accompanied by a court stipulation that the bailed man remain in the presence of a family member for the duration of the short time outside the prison walls is a stringent condition. While Tolan’s young daughter will benefit from his presence at her hospital bedside, four hours in which to do that is hardly an act of judicial generosity. Nor does there appear to be any credible reason why continuous bail should not be granted, given the needs of the child being treated and the nature of the charges preferred against the accused. Police objections on the grounds that Tolan is likely to commit more offences evokes a mere, ‘they would say that wouldn’t they.’ Besides, alleged links to ‘paramilitary’ bodies has not been an obstacle in the way of bail in other cases.

The prosecution case is that Tolan was one of four men arrested after a serious city centre assault on a well-known Belfast figure, Bobby Tohill. The charge of grievous bodily harm while not insubstantial and which could result in a hefty jail term, is nevertheless hardly at the gravest end of the transgression scale. The high media coverage the incident attracted reinforced by a widespread belief that the assault on Tohill was a Provisional IRA operation, rather than the severity of the charge itself, has increased the likelihood that both Tolan and his co-accused will spend their remand time in prison rather than on continuing bail.

Much of this sits in vivid contrast to the attitude taken by the courts when dealing with loyalists awaiting trial. There have been no allegations levelled that Tolan or those arrested with him had firearms in their possession. Yet high-profile loyalist, Andre Shoukri of the UDA was bailed after the PSNI claim to have found a gun in the waste band of his tracksuit bottoms. Last year William James Fulton had his bail conditions relaxed so he could watch the July 12 parade in Portadown. This was in spite of him having been described in court as a 'dedicated terrorist'. At the time he was out on bail awaiting trial for a total of 64 charges including aiding and abetting the murder of grandmother Elizabeth O'Neill, who died in a pipe-bomb attack at her Portadown home in June 1999. The judge hearing the application in his case further directed that Fulton be allowed to attend the re-enactment of the Battle of the Boyne the day following the 12th.

In December 2000, Shankill loyalist Thomas Potts found himself facing a charge of attempted murder arising out of a UDA attack on the Rex Bar on the Shankill Road a few months earlier. He obtained bail only to be rearrested in August 2002 and charged in relation to a UDA extortion racket.

Earlier this year Ihab Shoukri was granted bail despite facing a murder charge resulting from a loyalist feud. Tommy Tolan is held in custody on a charge that pales in severity when measured against that of Shoukri. The irony is that Shoukri was allowed out effectively to run the North Belfast UDA while Tolan has to speed up and down the M1 in order to spend maximum time with his hospitalised child.

That a court can see fit to reward the ‘cultural’ needs of Gary Fulton and treat with disdain the humanitarian needs of Tommy Tolan and his daughter, suggests a judicial disdain for those not of the unionist persuasion. Between judiciary and loyalists there seems to be a shared cognitive map that continues to designate ‘wrong side of the tracks’ those who live in nationalist communities.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

11 April 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Easter 2004, Arbour Hill, Dublin
Francis Mackey


Good Friday to Easter Sunday, 2 Days and Light Years
Anthony McIntyre


Is there a Republican Alternative to the Good Friday Agreement?
Gerry Ruddy


Bail For Sale - Nationalists Need Not Apply
Anthony McIntyre


Is the British State Neutral?
Liam O Ruairc


Lost Sheep or Shepherd?

Tom Luby


A Person I Admire
Miss O'Dee


Lerner, Said and the Palestinians
M. Shahid Alam


9 April 2004


Richard McAuley - 'a literary giant of our time'
Barney de Breadbin and Eamon Codswolloper


Hear, Hear!
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How Will Paisley's Rise Play in America?
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Other Shoes

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A Septic Needle
Anthony McIntyre


Why More Will Hate More and Less Will Understand Less
Michael Youlton


Save the Hill of Tara
Seaghán Ó Murchú




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