The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has rejected an appeal by the Irish government against a ruling that found the UK did not torture 14 men interned without trial during the Troubles.
The so-called Hooded Men claim they were subjected to a number of torture methods when they were detained without trial at a British military camp in Northern Ireland in 1971.
These included five techniques – hooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water – along with beatings and death threats.
The Irish authorities took the case to Europe after highlighting what it said was fresh evidence.
In March, the court said new material had not demonstrated the existence of facts that were not known to the court at the time or which could have had a decisive influence on the original judgment.
The ECHR dismissed the appeal by six votes to one.
Darragh Mackin, a solicitor for a number of the Hooded Men, said it was a disappointing decision, but vowed that the campaign for justice was not over.
“As was expressly highlighted by the dissenting judge in March, it is hard not to think that the Court was hiding behind nuanced procedure to shield itself from the thorny issue at the heart of this case.
“This case was always highly supercharged given the potential ramifications of any decision to overturn the original judgment.
“It is concerning that the Court has allowed, for a second time, the injustice that is the first ruling to go unscathed.
“For too long the first ruling has been used for a number of international states as a battering ram against human rights protections, when utilising torturous techniques.
“These techniques were and are torture. The Belfast High Court has said it, the London Supreme Court has said it. It is disheartening that the European Court has instead used procedural gymnastics to avoid saying the same.
“However, the campaign for justice for the hooded men is not over. They now eagerly await the judgment by the Court of Appeal in Belfast in which the chief constable of the PSNI appealed a decision that requires the identification and prosecution of those individuals whom perpetrated and authorised the techniques are held accountable.”
Francis McGuigan, one of the Hooded Men, said: “Whilst today is yet another setback, it is by no means the end.
“We have already received a legal ruling confirming our treatment was torture.
“It is disappointing that the European Court missed an opportunity to correct such an unjust ruling, however we now eagerly await the Court of Appeal’s decision, and seeing those responsible held accountable.”
Amnesty International described the decision as a “bitter blow” for the men and their families.
Grainne Teggart, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland campaigns manager, said: “The European Court has failed to let the Grand Chamber consider Ireland’s request to right a historic wrong.
“When Amnesty visited the detainees in 1971, we found clear evidence of torture.
“Our assessment has not changed in the years since and today’s decision does not change this.
“The torture of these men was approved at the highest level of Government. Justice is long overdue.
“We need an independent and effective investigation in line with the UK’s international human rights obligations.
“Those responsible for sanctioning and carrying out torture, at all levels, must be held accountable and, where possible, prosecuted.”
Fiona Crowley, Amnesty Ireland’s research and legal manager, said it still considered that the “hooded men” were tortured.
“While today’s decision is disappointing, Amnesty recalls that the Chamber decision in March was not a finding that the ‘five techniques’ fall short of torture by today’s standards.
“States which have used the 1978 decision to justify torture can find no comfort or support in this decision.
“The March decision was on a revision request. If this case were heard afresh by the Court today, we are confident that what was done to these men would be deemed torture.
“Amnesty International again commends the Irish Government for persisting in its efforts to help these men, and the families of the men who have since died, to have their rights to truth and justice vindicated.
“In 1971, Ireland took a brave, unprecedented step when bringing the case against the UK.
“In seeking a revision and then seeking to appeal to the Grand Chamber, Ireland has stood in defence of the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.”
Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the outcome will be “deeply disappointing” for the men at the centre of the case.
He added: “It is important to say that nothing in the panel decision today or the Court’s ruling on March 20 last altered the Court’s original 1978 judgment that the victims in the case suffered inhuman and degrading treatment, in breach of Article 3 of the Convention.
“I had the privilege of meeting with a group of the men and their family members on April 24.
“The men have campaigned with dignity and determination for many years for the appalling suffering they endured in 1974 to be confirmed as torture. The Government shares that view, which is why it sought the revision of the judgment in 2014.
“I also wish to acknowledge on behalf of the Government that the men’s campaign was founded on a wish to ensure that the brutal treatment they suffered could never be referred to as anything short of torture, in order to maintain human rights standards for all.
“Their long campaign is one of dignity, of compassion and of an inextinguishable belief in the universality of human rights, enduring through the deepest of suffering and the darkest of events.”
Officials from the Department are to meet with the men and their legal team following the outcome.