Family's delight as republican prisoner Brendan Lillis is freed
Republican prisoner Brendan Lillis, who was moved from Maghaberry jail to hospital days ago, was freed last night.
After his release Mr Lillis said: "I am feeling very weak. I heard this news about an hour ago."
Speaking of his partner Roisin Lynch, he said: "Roisin has moved mountains. Somebody who can do that on their own, well I can't say enough about her."
Ms Lynch said: "I can't believe it and I just want to thank everybody. It was the only humane decision that could have been made. There was no justification for keeping him in there."
Mr Lillis (59) remains in a Belfast hospital but is no longer under guard. The west Belfast man suffers from the arthritic condition Ankylosing spondylitis and was confined to bed in Maghaberry's hospital wing for 18 months. West Belfast Sinn Fein MP Paul Maskey welcomed the decision.
"From the start what this case required was compassion from the criminal justice system. It was obvious that Brendan Lillis posed no threat to society, he has been bedridden for two years."
Close friend and former republican prisoner Gerard Hodgins said everyone was "over the Moon" with the release.
"He's still in the hospital. The guards in there should be away by now. Roisin is down with him now and I've just heard - no stipulations, he is completely free. She's over there and over the Moon. He's free."
He said he was "delighted and relieved" the dispute was over but said Justice Minister David Ford should "reconsider his whole approach" in future.
SDLP justice committee member Colum Eastwood called the release a "victory for justice".
But Health Minister Edwin Poots said Mr Lillis would have received more than adequate treatment in Maghaberry prison.
"I think it's unnecessary and sends the wrong message to other prisoners," he said.
A Northern Ireland Prison Service spokesman confirmed the release.
"The Parole Commissioners have informed the department of its direction to release Mr Lillis on licence back into the community. Arrangements are being made to facilitate the release."
Brendan Lillis was sentenced to life in 1977 on explosives charges, but was released on licence in 1993. It was revoked in 2009 after he was arrested on robbery charges. A campaign was launched to free him due to illness. Last month the Prison Service said there were not sufficient grounds to release him.