Jailed former Provisional IRA commander Gerry McGeough has passed the first stage of a legal battle to be given an amnesty, in line with those accorded to some other combatants in the North’s conflict.
A judge at the High Court granted leave last week for Mr McGeough to seek a judicial review in his bid to be treated with those who received a royal pardon in the 1990s. Details of the pardon, said to have been agreed in the talks leading to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, have never been publicly released.
The County Tyrone man, a former member of the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle [High Counsel] is serving a 20-year sentence, controversially imposed earlier this year, in connection with an IRA gun attack on a UDR British soldier in June 1981.
McGeough’s lawyer had argued that he should be granted equal treatment with other IRA and loyalist paramilitaries who had benefited from a royal prerogative of mercy. It was claimed it would be unlawful to draw a distinction because McGeough has been previously jailed in Germany and the US.
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, Mr McGeough should be released within two years.
His lawyer has argued that the time he spent in jail abroad should count towards that period. He said his client was in an indistinguishable position from others who had received a pardon.
Yesterday Justice Treacy granted leave to McGeough to seek a judicial review on the issue of inequality of treatment. He rejected two other grounds including political discrimination. Lawyers for both sides are hoping to draw up a timetable for the proceedings by September.
Mr McGeough’s lawyer, Peter Corrigan welcomed the decision.
“We call on the Northern Ireland Office to urgently reconsider their position in light of this decision and grant our client a pardon immediately,” he said.
“The selection of some prisoners indistinguishable from Gerard McGeough for pardons is a clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement and in particular the principle that everyone is equal before the law.”