Northern Ireland news

Loyalists interned to `even up the score'

Evelyn Gilroy was interned in the 1970s

LOYALISTS were allegedly interned at the height of the Troubles to "even up the score", the High Court has heard.

Counsel for a group of Protestant men suing the UK state over their imprisonment without trial claimed the action was taken against them in a bid to balance the numbers of Catholics being detained.

Twenty five writs have been issued by individuals on both sides of the religious divide - including some brought on behalf of those who have since died.

Internment was introduced in 1971 as the conflict raged in Northern Ireland.

Nearly 2,000, most of them Catholic, were held over the next four years.

Claims have been brought against the Northern Ireland Office, PSNI, Ministry of Defence and Secretary of State.

One of the lawsuits is being taken by west Belfast woman Evelyn Gilroy, who alleges she was subjected to inhuman conditions during her arrest and imprisonment in May 1974.

She is seeking damages for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, negligence, breach of statutory duty and misfeasance in public office.

But many of the other legal actions involve men from the so-called loyalist side of the community. They allege the British government abused its power by locking then up.

One of that group was arrested in 1973 and spent more than a year in custody.

Their cases includes allegations they were interned because of their religion, in order to demonstrate the British state was not just detaining Catholics under that system.

Their legal team contended that four of those claims could now be advanced as lead actions.

Sean Devine told the court different policy approaches appeared to have operated for the two communities.

"In relation to the cases described as loyalist arrests, the contention will be that this was a policy in place in order to be seen to be evening up the score," he said.

"It's a different argument in relation to the internment strategy in respect to republican detainees."

Barrister Paul McLaughlin, for the authorities being sued, outlined how some of the actions were more advanced than others.

He set out how the so-called loyalists claim their internment was arbitrary and discriminatory.

Adjourning proceedings until March, Mr Justice Maguire requested an update by then on which cases may be ready for trial.

Outside court, solicitor Kevin Winters, who represents 19 of the 25 individuals suing, said: "We're concerned about the progress in these cases because the plaintiffs are really elderly.

"We're pleased with the court's indication that these cases need to be progressed as soon as possible.

"Sadly, at least three of the plaintiffs have now passed on - we really need the cases at hearing."

Solicitor Kevin Winters said "we really need the cases at hearing"

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