Irish Republican News · April 5, 2007
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: The arrest of Gerry McGeough
The arrest of Gerry McGeough

Prominent republican and election candidate Gerry McGeough has been released by the PSNI police on bail following a campaign to being attention to his controversial arrest and detention earlier this month. Here Martin Galvin looks at the case.

At first, it seemed that the snatch of Independent Republican candidate, Gerry McGeough from the polls on quarter-century old charges, was merely a vindictive British constabulary getting its own back at a man who had campaigned so fiercely against backing them. When Ian Paisley bellowed that Sinn Fein complaints about the arrest would not be tolerated in his Stormont, and would if repeated collapse any cabinet formed, it seemed that McGeough may have been another chip demanded of the British by the DUP. However, when the RUC-PSNI compounded its stage-managed arrest with a blatant subterfuge to block McGeough’s release on bail, a more sinister meaning began to emerge. Is a clear and chilling message being communicated? Gerry McGeough had said himself that this election was a start not a finish of a campaign that would continue in the next election and beyond. Were the British moving to eliminate Gerry McGeough from the next election? Are other prominent Republicans who played an active part in the struggle and who were prepared to stand and speak against the RUC-PSNI being told to keep their heads down? Are Republicans being told that you may still aspire to a united Ireland but only within the constraints of accepting the unionist veto and British administration? Gerry McGeough had argued that the renamed RUC-PSNI was the same force which had inflicted so much suffering and repression in the name of the crown and should never be trusted much less endorsed by any Republican or nationalist. No words of his however could have proven McGeough’s point as eloquently as the deeds of the RUC-PSNI in arresting and holding him.

BACKGROUND

The background of this case is well known. Gerry McGeough has lived quite openly in the Eglish area near Dungannon in County Tyrone. He resided with his wife Maria. Their three young children are enrolled in the local school . He worshipped at the same parish church where his parents and grandparents are buried. As a popular member of the community and prominent Republican, his presence in the area and movements would have been no secret. If the RUC-PSNI had any actual evidence or charges to make against Gerry McGeough, they would have long ago done so. There would have been no difficulty in locating him. It would have taken little more than checking with the post office that sorted his mail or the telephone service that provided the landline to his home.

When the British and DUP required that Sinn Fein must endorse and fully cooperate with the RUC-PSNI in order to gain admission to Stormont, Gerry McGeough was one of many concerned Republicans who disagreed. They organized meetings, debated, and argued that Republicans should say no backing for a renamed RUC-PSNI, which had brought so much suffering and death across the six counties as the cutting edge of British rule. He contended that it was wrong in principle for those who pledged to remove British forces and end British rule to now endorse crown forces and row in behind British rule. Moreover, it was wrong pragmatically to become hostage to the whims of a constabulary who might go softly at the moment, but having banked the political cover of a ballot box endorsement might and likely would return to repression. He was cheered in Derry at the Tower Hotel, brought the debate to a Sinn Fein meeting in Tyrone and presented his analysis cogently to newspapers, television and radio.

CANDIDATE

When the analysis of concerned Republicans went unheard or unheeded, the idea of standing candidates opposed to the RUC-PSNI began to emerge. Gerry McGeough was asked to go forward as a way for others to say no at the ballot box. He was an obvious choice. Gerry McGeough had impeccable Republican credentials. He had been a leader in the 1981 Hunger Strike campaign, played an active part in the struggle, spent years in the notorious German bunker prison, more years in American prisons for Irish Republican Army actions before returning to Ireland and being elected to the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle. He was one of those who sadly and with deep regret felt obliged by the patriotic beliefs which moved him to join the Republican Movement, to leave Sinn Fein. Those who wished to misrepresent the man or demonize him as a way to undermine his candidacy might belittle his deep religious beliefs, or even claim he was splitting the vote, but there was no credible way to disguise the fact that Gerry McGeough had paid his Republican dues and earned the right to be heard and taken seriously.

CAMPAIGN

His nomination papers would have included his address but still there were no RUC-PSNI charges or attempt to arrest him. He carried his analysis of no backing for the RUC-PSNI, no more concessions to Paisley and demanding a united Ireland by peaceful means to towns and doorsteps across Fermanagh and South Tyrone. He frequently began his conversation with voters by politely introducing himself and then saying “Vote against the RUC”. He challenged all comers in BBC debates and recounted that his most telling moments were not the questions about whether Sinn Fein members should inform against Republicans opposed to the RUC-PSNI and the chasm between the polar opposite demands of the DUP and Republican base. Gerry McGeough instead cited the near foaming at the mouth reaction of the DUP members at his calls for a re-united Ireland, which they shouted at him, was a dead issue under the Stormont Deal.

Here was a man who attended BBC studio debates, handed out flyers with his name and photo, and introduced himself to voter after voter at times under posters bearing his name. Still the RUC-PSNI made no move and had no charges to press against him.

He also said privately that this campaign was not about March 7th. There was no way to overtake in 10 weeks the 20 year head start that Sinn Fein had, particularly with a shoestring budget in a divided constituency. This campaign was a beginning towards the future. A number of Sinn Fein party election workers, activists, and even councilors had joined him. It would take time but the arguments had been made and considered if not yet accepted. If Sinn Fein now espoused working within the British administration and adopting the politics once held by the SDLP, could concerned Republicans take the Republican ground left behind?

DISAPPEARED

As the votes were being counted Gerry McGeough along with his election agent and campaign workers waited at the count centre. He had left some necessary documents in his car and went to retrieve them. He told his companions to watch the vote count that he would be right back. The minutes turned into hours. Gerry McGeough had disappeared. More time would pass. Then a phone call would be made to his election agent. Gerry McGeough had been surrounded by the RUC-PSNI as he went to his car and held on a 1981 charge, the year that McGeough had played a key role in the Hunger Strike campaign. Another man Vincent McAnespie, whose wife is a Sinn Fein councilor in Monaghan and supports Sinn Fein, was also charged. The alleged victim was a UDR man now a DUP candidate.

No one could recall an incident even at the height of British repression where the RUC-PSNI had arrested a candidate at the polls . Many Republicans believed that the term “ political policing” was a misnomer and that the role of enforcing British rule and law upon unwilling Irish subjects was inherently political but not policing. However when the RUC-PSNI can snatch candidates at the polls who advocate a political vote against the crown constabulary, on quarter century old charges that term does seem to take meaning.

Gerry Adams and Michelle Gildernew protested the arrests. Ian Paisley bellowed in reply that any criticism of the RUC-PSNI arrests would not be tolerated in his Stormont and he would collapse any cabinet for failing to give what he demanded as acceptable full cooperation with the RUC-PSNI.

SHAM

It would be a week before Gerry McGeough would appear in court in Enniskillen, ironically a town where McGeough had been campaigning in the town centre only days before. His solicitor was Peter Corrigan, who fights cases with a spirit and dedication reminiscent of Pat Finucane. A large number of concerned Republicans protested outside and filled the court despite RUC-PSNI efforts to intimidate them.

The crown was caught in a clear contradiction . They were at pains to deny the obvious. Clearly they were aware that Gerry McGeough lived in Tyrone and done so for a long time. Why had they waited until the votes were cast if not counted? Were they concerned about taking an action which might increase his vote by proving his point? Were they afraid of the old slogan ‘Put him in to get him out” in a constituency which had elected Bobby Sands MP? Was there never a case or charges that even a Diplock Court would entertain?

Peter Corrigan called the charges an abuse of the electoral process . The last piece of evidence collected by the crown was obtained in 1994, thirteen years earlier. Corrigan said that McGeough had never been arrested because” there was no case in 1981, no case in 1994 and no case today. “ It also emerged that while held Gerry McGeough was forcibly stripped by the riot squad and video-taped while naked. Was this really to photograph possible wounds that could have occurred at any time or was it an attempt to humiliate a candidate who had humiliated the RUC-PSNI by identifying them with their past misdeeds?

BAIL SUBERTUGE

Another week would pass before Gerry McGeough would be scheduled for a bail application. His co-accused had been granted bail two days earlier. His wife and supporters hoped that McGeough too would be released on the first step towards whatever passes for justice in a Diplock Court for an Irish Republican.

Minutes before the bail hearing began, the crown informed his solicitors that McGeough had jumped bail in the United States and was wanted in Germany. Without notice or advance knowledge, his solicitors were forced to adjourn the application rather than risk a denial of bail because of American or German proceedings about which there was no documentation.

These claims were blatant lies. In Germany the case against Gerry McGeough had collapsed twenty years earlier. He had in fact been extradited to America after years of trial and imprisonment because there was no evidence to convict him. He was sent documents formally acknowledging that there were no further proceedings against him. In America McGeough was charged as part of a conspiracy to obtain weapons for the IRA. He was not in the United States at the time that the charges were unsealed and the first arrests were made.

In that case something remarkable had occurred . Federal Judge Charles Sifton had initially seemed openly hostile to accused Gabriel Megahey, Eamon Meehan, Andy Duggan and Colm Meehan. During the trial a transformation took place . Perhaps it occurred when the judge read confidential British documents about the backgrounds of the four. Others suggest it occurred when the judge heard testimony about two of the men being tortured in Long Kesh. Judge Sifton publicly noted on the record that the accused were honorable men who were motivated by unselfish concern for Ireland. After they were found guilty, the judge called Mr Megahey up to the front and said if he gave his word on behalf of all the accused to honor all bail conditions, he would allow the four to remain free pending sentence , but if anyone of them broke bail it would mean no release for any future IRA suspects.

When Gerry McGeough was sent from Germany, Sifton noted the honorable conduct of those tried earlier and said that he would grant bail on the same basis. Gerry McGeough honored his bail conditions in every respect. When he agreed to plead guilty, he was promised a three year sentence. Sifton allowed him to remain at liberty until directed to report for sentence. McGeough complied He presumably can only face a two year sentence on these charges under the Stormont Deal. How can the crown argue that a man who would not flee a 3 year sentence in America would flee Ireland rather than face a 2 year sentence?

HOPED

McGeough’s solicitors in America and Germany have been contacted to supply affidavits confirming that the crown’s claims were blatantly untrue. Hopefully McGeough will have been rescheduled for a bail hearing and granted release by the time you read these words.

Meanwhile those who said that the PSNI is not the RUC or is not the inherently irreformable cutting edge of British rule saw their claims disappear along with Gerry McGeough outside the vote count in Tyrone on March 8th.

© 2007 Irish Republican News