McGeough case could set precedent
Lawyers for prominent republican Gerry McGeough argued for his entitlement to release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement for more than four hours this week.
They told the court he was being treated differently to others imprisoned for their part in the armed conflict, because he was no longer a member of Sinn Fein.
McGeough, a former member of the Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle [High Council], is serving a punitive 20-year sentence imposed last year for an attack which injured a locally-recruited British soldier in June 1981.
His dramatic arrest outside an election centre in Omagh in March 2007 while contesting the Assembly election as an indepedent republican was widely seen as an attempt to silence a political ‘dissident’. His treatment, part of a selective internment program carried out by the British Crown forces, has contrasted sharply with that accorded to other political leaders in the North.
Under the broader terms of the Good Friday Agreement, he is expected to serve only two years of his sentence and is due for release in April 2013. But it was also argued in court that he be granted a pardon to ensure equal treatment with others who had benefited from it.
Justice Treacy was told such a warrant had been used to free others such as James McArdle.
The Tyrone man’s lawyers contended that when pardons are granted or withheld on arbitrary grounds that are clearly discriminatory -- such as withdrawing a pardon from Mr McGeough because of his political opinions and candidacy in an election -- that such matters are subject to court rulings to correct abuses.
The most contentious issue of the hearing was the Crown’s failure to explain the reasons why pardons were issued in some cases and not others, even though all of the relevant officials, records and documents are under their control.
The Court then heard arguments on Mr McGeough’s imprisonment in Germany and the USA on related charges and why it should count towards the two year early release scheme.
It was broadly acknowledged that Mr McGeough’s case may become an important precedent for several others, including those aligned with Sinn Fein.
Mr McGeough’s lawyers were given until next Friday to provide additional supporting documents from Sinn Fein. The record will be then closed and a decision is expected shortly thereafter.