Northern Ireland

Elderly Protestant group interned during the Troubles press for judicial vindication

The High Court in Belfast
The High Court in Belfast

A GROUP of elderly Protestants allegedly interned because of their religion are pressing for judicial "vindication" while they are still alive, they claimed today.

The men attended the High Court as part of attempts to advance their legal action over being imprisoned without trial at the height of the Troubles.

One of them, now aged 90, said after the hearing: "I was taken like a new-born child for nothing. All we want to see is vindication."

Twenty five writs have been issued by individuals on both sides of the religious divide - including at least four 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.

Read moreLoyalists interned to `even up the score'

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

 Solicitor Kevin Winters
 Solicitor Kevin Winters

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 in an effort to balance the numbers of Catholics being detained.

In court today their lawyers pressed to have east Belfast man Jim Wilson's claim heard as one of the lead cases.

Mr Justice Maguire could agree to the move when proceedings are reviewed again in April.

Following the hearing Mr Wilson (67) described the impact on his life from being arrested in July 1973 and interned for 14 months at the old Long Kesh prison camp.

"I lost my house, which I had just bought for £2,800, and a well-paid job," he said.

"When I came out of Long Kesh I could only get menial jobs like sewing up carpet to go to Saudi Arabia."

Mr Wilson stressed, however, that missing out on the birth of his first child was the worst part.

"I lost something in my life I will never get back - never mind the money, the house and the job," he explained.

"Not being there with my wife and sharing those first moments with our child, that hit me more than anything emotionally."

Members of the group now want the actions dealt with as soon as possible.

Solicitor Kevin Winters, who represents 19 of the 25 individuals suing, said: "We have lost four plaintiffs since these cases were started and we don't want to lose any more.

"The positive announcement on inquest funding needs to extend to all sectors of conflict litigation, including actions like these.

"We had a 90-year-old man attending court today, he needs his case heard."