Gerry McGeough trial begins
Gerry McGeough trial begins

A prominent republican has gone on trial for an IRA attack on a UDR soldier almost 30 years ago.

Gerry McGeough, a former member of the Sinn Fein leadership, is also accused of possessing two Colt revolvers and two counts of being a member of the IRA between 1975 and 1981.

Alson on trial on related charges is 47-year-old Vincent McAnespie from Aughnacloy. The pair will become the first republicans on trial for historical crimes in the North since the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

Among the evidence due to be presented against him is ‘Defenders’, a 1998 novel he wrote about IRA, loyalist and British army killings in County Tyrone, and an interview he gave to journalist Peter Taylor for the 1997 BBC Panorama documentary programme ‘Provos’.

McGeough, who has been imprisoned in the US and Germany, was national director of Sinn Fein’s ‘No to Nice’ campaign in the successful 2001 referendum. He has since left the party, arguing it has abandoned republican principles. He stood as an anti-PSNI candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in the 2007 Assembly election and was dramatically arrested outside the count centre.

In an interview with the Sunday Tribune newspaper, Mr McGeough said: “My prosecution has everything to do with political censorship and nothing to do with justice. We’re meant to be in a new era. Either the Troubles are over or they’re not.

“If they’re not, let’s not pick and choose, let’s have everybody before the courts. Martin McGuinness has admitted IRA membership. Why am I being put on trial and he is not?

“The state has ample evidence of Sinn Fein leaders’ involvement in killings -- not attempted killings -- and bombings. Many ex-RUC and UDR members were up to their necks in collusion and killing Catholics. Let them face the legal process too.

“Either a line should be drawn in the sand regarding all Troubles-related acts or else it shouldn’t and everybody should be pursued.”

McGeough lives in Brantry, County Tyrone, with his Spanish wife Maria and his four young children. If convicted, he will serve a maximum of two years under the terms of the Good Friday agreement.

“My trial could cost up to a million pounds. When police don’t have the resources to deal with drugs and general crime that seems a squandering of funds.

“I believe the real reason for my prosecution is that if convicted -- even though it won’t be a long sentence by the standards of the Troubles -- when I’m released it will be on license. I’ll then be subject to all sorts of restrictions and if I ever open my mouth again politically, they’ll haul me back to jail.

“I also suspect it’s a test case and if it works with me, many other republicans will be pursued for alleged historic crimes.”

In 1996, he was deported from the US to Ireland after serving a three-year sentence there for attempting to buy arms for the Provisional IRA.

After a period working for Sinn Fein, he didn’t become politically active again in the North until 2007 when he stood as an independent republican Assembly candidate.

“Although I didn’t move permanently back to the North until 2006, I’d visited my family home in Tyrone many times before. I wasn’t in hiding. I was stopped at police and British military checkpoints and was even called for jury service twice.

“When I moved home permanently, my next-door neighbour was an ex-RUC man who chatted to me regularly. My election nomination papers clearly stated my address.

“The police are saying they couldn’t find me but I addressed many public meetings during the election campaign and took part in countless live BBC radio and TV debates, including one with Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew.”

McGeough claims it was “no accident” he was arrested at the election count. “It was to send a very clear message to silence anyone politically challenging British rule in the North.

“Even at the height of the Troubles, I don’t recall any republican candidate being arrested at the polls. If that happened in Zimbabwe, the British government and international community would be squealing from the roof-tops.”

During an early bail hearing, a crown lawyer said McGeough was aligned to the Continuity IRA: “My lawyers showed that was absurd. I’m opposed to the continuation of armed struggle. The only organisation of which I’m a member is the Ancient Order of Hibernians. I’m anti-abstentionist and clearly stated I’d take my seat in Stormont if elected. Republican Sinn Fein, which is regarded as the Continuity IRA’s political wing, actually stood a candidate against me.”

Maria McGeough, his Spanish wife, says: “I don’t know why this is happening to us. Because of the charges he is facing, my husband can’t find work as a teacher. He had a heart attack last year. I believe he is going to jail. I look at his former friends in Sinn Fein walking around freely and living comfortable lives and I can’t understand it.”

The trial is set to last three weeks.

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