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.
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 Tolans
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 wouldnt they.
Besides, alleged links to paramilitary
bodies has not been an obstacle in the way of bail
in other cases.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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