We Say

It is difficult to conceive of a more cynical and grubby abuse of process than the experience to which local man Bill Tierney and his family have been subjected over the last year and a half.

Mr Tierney is a fifty-nine year-old, widely respected family man who up until eighteen months ago was running his own successful computer company.
He was on the cusp of finishing a world-class PC software programme that was almost ready for marketing on the global stage.

But Bill Tierney’s world changed in May 2003.

A cadre of senior PSNI detectives took a decision that this upstanding member of our community was fair game for a pathetic stunt dressed up under the guise of policing, when they chose to charge him with ‘possessing information likely to be of use to terrorists’.

This charade continued for almost a year and a half, until all the charges were sheepishly dropped last week – without any explanation of any kind whatsoever to the accused.

Bill Tierney’s name has been dragged through the mud by the PSNI, on foot of which one learned Diplock judge commented that he is potentially dangerous.
Mr Tierney was cruelly forced to experience the inside of Maghaberry prison, twenty years after leaving the H-Blocks of Long Kesh where he had bravely endured the suffering of the Blanket protest.

His business – which he had painstakingly built at a modest enterprise unit in West Belfast – has been badly damaged.

And his family have been emotionally savaged, with Bill’s wife, Emily, never working again after the day of his arrest.

Yet no-one in authority has had the personal dignity or professional courtesy to tell him why any of this started or why it suddenly ended. (Three other local men, Denis Donaldson, Ciaran Kearney and Billy Mackessy are today attending a court hearing under a similar shadow – over two years after their arrest as part of the so-called ‘Stormont investigation’ and the same prosecuting authorities are now applying to the same courts for permission to with-hold alleged evidence currently in the hands of the same Special Branch detectives!)

It’s hard not to agree with Mr Tierney (see interview page 15) that his eighteen months of hell at the hands of this PSNI/NIO Star Chamber occurred because he refused to act as an agent for the Special Branch/Major Investigation Team.

Nor is it hard to agree with him that there are negative elements in key positions which are pursuing a concerted agenda against the peace process.

We have seen this process in action too many times over recent years: violent house raids; high-profile arrests; orchestrated media leaks; spurious investigations; strenuous opposition to bail; Public Interest Immunity Certificates; and then the subsequent dropping or reduction of very serious criminal charges – all without explanation.

There are those within the PSNI whose hearts will always yearn for the Crown and Harp of the RUC. These are the RUC Untouchables who gave us the Stevens Report, the Sampson Report and, of course, the Stalker Investigation.

Despite his experience, Bill Tierney is lucky in one sense: he has a strong family, a supportive community and a steady commitment to the cause of peace, socialism and justice in Ireland – which these RUC Untouchables will never break.

But clearly, adequate mechanisms of accountability, transparency and impartiality do not yet exist within the PSNI or the north’s criminal justice agencies to prevent such cynical people asserting their power.

The Good Friday Agreement set forth the way towards a peaceful country but, equally, the case of Bill Tierney sets out the obstacles we face along that road. On that basis, our key question this morning is this: do the Irish and British governments have the capacity to remove such obstacles and guarantee that the gross abuse evidenced in Bill Tierney’s case is rooted out once and for all?

Based on the experience of the last few years, this community won’t be holding its breath.

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