By Fr Des Wilson
The case of Sean Hoey will have to be watched with great care.
There could well be a massive injustice to him if we don’t.
His lawyers say he had no connection whatever with the Omagh bombing, of which he stands accused, and there is no credible evidence to say he had.
And as we have to remind ourselves over and over again in the sorry state of justice in all Ireland these days, we are conscience-bound to declare him innocent until it is proved beyond all reasonable doubt that he is anything else.
For decades now the courts have allowed flimsy evidence to be presented to them, they have allowed long delays with accused persons being on remand, they have imposed sentences which decent honourable people have seen as unequal and biased in favour of those who favour the government.
These are serious matters and must be examined and decided on once and for all.
Either the courts and the judges who preside over them and all connected with them are observing the strictest standards or they are not.
If they are not they should not be trusted with such a serious task as deciding the imprisonment or the freedom of people.
And it is to be hoped that the administration is not using this case for its own ends.
After all, whether they want it or not, certain benefits may accrue to the administration by having Mr Hoey accused and on remand for a long time.
On the one hand the administration is encouraging the unhappy relatives of the Omagh victims to take a civil case and promising money to do so. But on the other hand, just suppose that a civil case does occur. And suppose people get to saying things which are unhelpful to the administration, for instance that there was a delay in communication which cannot be explained, that there was foreknowledge which was not used, matters about which the relatives will naturally and properly be concerned.
And suppose the administration either does not have satisfactory answers or refuses to provide witnesses who can give answers?
The administration would then be embarrassed and further questions would be asked about the whole sorry Omagh affair.
Or suppose people succeeded in having an inquiry into what happened in Omagh. Would the same questions be answered, would the same answers be refused?
The positive advantage for the administration is that it can say to those who want either an inquiry or a civil case: We are sorry, we would like to help you in this, and we shall certainly do so in due time, at a suitable juncture, when the time is ripe, but meanwhile unfortunately it is impossible to have either an inquiry or a civil case because, you see, there is a criminal case now in the courts.
And that criminal case could be in the courts for a very long time.
One can see what positive elements there could be for the administration, and what a frustration for the victims’ relatives if there is a long delay in bringing the present case to court and if when it does come to court the evidence is as sparse as the lawyers say it is.
It is notoriously true that politicians and their helpers often go for short-term solutions aO” pay companies hundreds of millions and try not to think of the future when the scaldy chickens come home to roost; set up politicians who will make agreements and undermine them; bring cases which you know will lessen, not increase, people’s confidence in the legal or political system; do all this for short-term advantage to get you out of a hole, and hope that in the long term all will be well.
Civil servants and judges and interrogators retire, people forget.
But while judges and interrogators retire and civil servants and the rest retire, prisoners languish in prison or live with the trauma and the disgust and hurt and the social penalties of having been charged with serious crimes which could make make them a target for years to come.
Yes, it is worth our while to watch, and watch extremely closely, the case of Sean Hoey.