The disclosures made in John Downey’s case could have altered the course of Gerry McGeough’s trial or appeal, according to his legal team, as the evidence presented at the Old Bailey could have confirmed that 216 “pardons” had been issued to republicans.
During the 2007 assembly elections, the veteran republican stood against Sinn Fein as an independent candidate in Fermanagh/South Tyrone. He was arrested as he left the election count centre in Omagh and was subsequently charged with attempting a border IRA attack which killed a British Army (UDR) man in 1981.
In 2011 he was tried and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, but after extensive legal efforts was released after two years in January 2013, in compliance with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Mr McGeough has previously said that he was given assurances by Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly in 2000 that he would not be charged with any offence if he returned to the Six Counties.
“This vindicates our position,” he said on Thursday. “We have been saying all along that these amnesties existed and I was being singled out for persecution because of my views.”
Mr McGeough said that during his trial the British government was asked for disclosure of documents on the amnesty issue but denied they existed. He believes those who knew about the existence of the amnesties are involved in a cover up.
“There’s a DUP, Sinn Fein and MI5 axis running this whole thing,” he argued. “For the DUP to say they are surprised is play acting ahead of elections.”
The former Sinn Fein ard comhairle [high council] member believes he was singled out for arrest in 2007 because of his opposition to Sinn Fein in Tyrone.
“This was a means of blocking me because I was a political threat,” he said. “It was a huge injustice done to me and my family.”
Mr McGeough’s solicitor Aiden Carlin said as a result of this week’s disclosures, the case would now be referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
IRSP IN THE DARK
The Irish Republican Socialist Party has said none of the ‘letters of assurance’ given to Sinn Fein supporters were ever received by anyone linked with it.
Party spokesman Michael McLaughlin said the process was a “murky back room deal” which had left INLA Volunteers exposed.
“No republican loyal to the republican socialist movement received these cover letter,” he said.
“The murky back room deal between republican OTRs loyal to the Sinn Fein leadership and British establishment sums up the squalid nature of how society currently deals with legacy of the war.
“No attempts have been made to inclusively deal the OTRs, loyalist or republican, and until such a time we collectively and sincerely find an independent non-party political approach we are doomed to repeat the cycle of mistrust and instability.”
“Everyone and their dog knew full well that provisional republicans were given immunity whilst republicans not loyal to Sinn Fein were hounded from pillar to post.”
There were also questions about those Sinn Fein figures who received royal pardons, believed to number between 30 and 40 individuals. In light of unionist demands for the OTR letters to be rescinded, the distinction may be significant, as royal pardons cannot be overturned or abrogated.
Mr McLaughlin said there had been several situations recently when clearly political motivated prosecutions had been instigated against those opposed to Sinn Fein.
“A key factor in the debate we need to collectively have is on the powers British intelligence agencies have and their control over all aspects of all political institutions.
“Faceless intelligence operative can sit in Palace Barracks and determine which combatant and from which political tradition to prosecute”
“Because the current approach to the legacy of the past is not independent or transparent it allows these murky intelligence forces to continue to use issues like ‘OTRs’ as political weapons within all the current institutions of Stormont.”