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Paisley wanted NI families visiting prisoners in Republic to be paid for

Dr Ian Paisley had written on numerous occasions to the Taoiseach about setting up a scheme to help families from Northern Ireland which had loved ones in jail in Ireland.

Image: Haydn West/PA Archive/Press Association Images

DOCUMENTS HELD AT the Department of the Taoiseach from 1983 include correspondence between Dr Ian Paisley and Garrett Fitzgerald about the possibility of a scheme which would financially assist families from Northern Ireland visit prisoners incarcerated in the Republic.

Although the Taoiseach was amenable to the idea, eventually the government found it to be a non-runner because of lack of precedent and expense.

In a final letter on the matter, the Fine Gael leader told Paisley that it would be difficult to justify the introduction of a scheme to help relatives coming from Northern Ireland when no such arrangements are made for families within the State which are in similar positions.

It would be seen as discriminatory, he said, as Community Welfare Officers decided about grants on a case-by-case basis.

At the time, there were about 200 prisoners from Northern Ireland jailed in jails across the 26 counties.

Before writing to Paisley, Fitzgerald checked if there were any plans in place for financial assistance from the UK to Irish families whose loved ones were being detained in Northern Ireland or British prisons. He was advised that no such scheme existed, a fact he passed on to Paisley.

He also asked for a cost analysis. According to the Department of Justice, even a “modest scheme” could cost about £80,000, a sum disputed by the Taoiseach.

Paisley wanted NI families visiting prisoners in Republic to be paid for
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  • Notes held in the Taoiseach's Department

  • Notes held in the Taoiseach's Department

In advising against the move, Minister Michael Noonan also claimed that most Northern Ireland prisoners are members of “subversive groups whose support groups meet the costs of visiting relatives”.

Paisley also made representations on behalf of Gerard Hamill who was serving a 10-year sentence in Limerick Prison for a 1977 armed robbery.

For further study, please see National Archives Reference 2013/100/311

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