The arrest at an election centre of an independent republican candidate has been described as an abuse of the democratic process and a return to the dark ages of political policing.
Gerry McGeough, who stood unsuccessfully for election to the Assembly, and another man, Vincent McAnespie, were brought before Enniskillen Magistrates Court yesterday.
Vincent McAnespie is the brother of British murder victim Aidan McAnespie and husband of a Monaghan Sinn Fein councillor. The McAnespie home was raided and extensively searched by members of the PSNI when the father-of-six was arrested at about the same time as Mr McGeough was detained on Thursday.
In court yesterday, PSNI police had only ‘evidence’ dating from 1994 to present when charging Mr McGeough with attempting to shoot a locally-recruited British soldier in June 1981.
Mr McGeough’s lawyer, Peter Corrigan, criticised the PSNI actions and their lack of new evidence to mount a charge in the case, describing it as “a political prosecution”.
Standing for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Mr McGeough, had been in the North for some time and conducted a high profile election campaign, including a number of radio and television appearances.
Mr Corrigan described PSNI claims that they were not aware of Mr McGeough’s presence in the North until the election was over as “implausible”.
“Our case is very much that this is an assault on the electoral process,” he added.
“[The investigating officer] knows that there is no evidence from 1994 and that there is no case.
“If there was no case in 1994, and there was no case in 1981, then there is no case today.”
It is understood that the intended victim of the alleged IRA attack was at the count centre when McGeough was arrested.
Mr McAnespie’s lawyer John Fahy said they were relying on two witness statements taken relatively recently to charge his client.
“This is the whole evidence which links these men to the charges against them ... It appears to me to be a throw back to very dark days which we thought were gone.”
He added that McAnespie, husband of Sinn Fein councillor Brenda McAnespie and brother of Aidan, who was shot dead in cold blood by British troops at a check point in Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, had been instrumental in pushing the peace process forward.
Sinn Féin Dáil leader and Cavan-Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has described as “scandalous” the charging of Vincent McAnespie and Gerry McGeough following their arrest on the day of the count in the Assembly elections.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said the arrests had caused “justifiable outrage” among republicans throughout the border counties and beyond.
“These arrests came on the very day of the count in the Assembly elections. Both men have lived and travelled openly in the Six Counties for years, yet elements within the PSNI chose a time such as this to haul them before the courts.”
Mr O Caolain said Vincent McAnespie was a highly respected member of the community in Aughnacloy, the father of six children and “a valued colleague of mine”. He said the raid and arrest had “brought further distress” to the family following the murder Vincent’s brother.
“The arrest of Gerry McGeough, a candidate in the Assembly elections, at the count centre, was equally outrageous,” he said. Like Vincent McAnespie, Gerry McGeough has lived openly in County Tyrone for years.
“Clearly these developments are indicative of the fact that the securocrats still exert a key influence in the PSNI. This is a prime example of the type of political policing that Sinn Féin is determined to bring to an end.”