Supporters of Brendan Lillis at a recent demonstration

Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister David Ford has turned down pleas to release ill Republican prisoner Brendan Lillis on compassionate grounds as he fights against a debilitating condition at Maghaberry Prison.

Lillis has spent nearly two years in bed in the prison’s hospital wing and is down to five and a half stone in weight as he battles against ankylosing spondylitis and chronic arthritis.

The 59-year-old was originally jailed for possession of explosives in 1977. He was released on license in 1993 but this was revoked in 2009 when he was charged with robbery. Although he is too ill to face fresh charges of robbery, Lillis remains in hospital.

Several politicians from the SDLP and Sinn Fein parties had canvassed Minister for Justice Ford to release Lillis on compassionate grounds.

But Ford has turned the request down and confirmed that he had received reassurances from medical staff at the Co Antrim prison that Lillis was receiving adequate care at the prison hospital.

The Minister acknowledged that while it was within his power to free the prisoner, he had been advised there were not sufficient grounds for release.

Lillis’s partner, Róisín Lynch told the Irish Times that his condition meant he was no longer a threat to the public and rejected the suggestion he was receiving adequate care in jail.

“We’re on the humanitarian side of this now. We’re not talking about freeing Brendan Lillis – we are talking about saving Brendan Lillis,” said Lynch.
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“I fear now David Ford will not release Brendan until he is either dead or only a matter of hours from death. I did not detect any compassion or justice from the justice minister.”
Sinn Féin West Belfast MP Paul Maskey told the paper that Lillis’s case was ‘a matter of urgency’.

“The justice minister has claimed he does not have the power to release Brendan Lillis, despite legal advice to the contrary,” said Maskey.

“There must not be any further delay in this case. The Parole Commission needs to meet as a matter of urgency and make the right decision. Mr Lillis should be released immediately in order to secure the necessary care that he requires.”

The SDLP has re-iterated its call for Lillis to be released.

A statement from the party said: “Brendan Lillis is not a threat to society and should be allowed home. He cannot be allowed to die in jail.”