Trial of Gerry McGeough brings back echoes of the old days

By Mick Hall (

In the same week as Policing and Justice has been transferred from London to the devolved Stormont administration, the trial of Gerry McGeough has opened in Belfast. McGeough, a former senior official of Sinn Fein and member of its ard Comhairle; and the much feared Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade, is charged with PIRA membership in 1975, and the attempted murder of a UDR man in 1981, making him the first former member of the PIRA to be placed on trial in the North for historical crimes since the 1998 Good Friday agreement.

McGeough, a staunch Roman Catholic, is the type of Irish Republican who would rather defy his God than the oath he took to the Irish Republic. Nevertheless, since the ceasefire he has refused to join any of the armed republican groups. He retrained as a teacher and became editor of a conservative Catholic magazine The Hibernian, dedicated to “Faith, Family and Country.”

So why has this former Republican volunteer been brought before the courts, whilst others have been left in peace to prosper as ‘democratic’ politicians within the new Stormont Statelet. For example Gerry Adams, the former Commander of the PIRA Belfast Brigade and Martin McGuinness, for a short period the Provo Chief of Staff and at one time McGeough’s OC. True McGeough played a prominent role in the PIRA campaign, serving prison time in Ireland, the EU and the USA. But so too did many others who today walk free, not least the aforementioned two gentlemen.

It is difficult to disagree with Danny McBrearty, the chair of the Republican Network for Unity, who in a statement issued this week when commenting on the trial of Gerry McGeough said his case raises justice questions that are deeply troubling.

“Republicans have been repeatedly challenged that if they had an alternative to joining a British administration, they were free to do so and should stand in elections. Gerry McGeough is an example of what happens if anyone takes up that challenge. He stood as an Independent Republican against endorsing the RUC/PSNI, and while not winning a seat gained much respect in nationalist and Republican areas .The British responded by a planned arrest at the vote count, on charges trumped up from 1981, in order to prevent him from standing again.”

“It is ironic that Gerry McGeough should begin trial on charges of IRA membership and involvement in an IRA attack in 1981, just as some regarded by most journalists and British crown officials as the leaders and commanders of the IRA at that time, are silent about his case, but join with the DUP in touting someone to head a compromised Stormont ministry over the crown courts and constabulary, who called the Bloody Sunday Saville Inquiry pointless and a waste of money. Is McGeough not entitled to any loyalty or political support from those who were Republican leaders and commanders at that time? Was silence on cases like that of Gerry McGeough bartered away as part of the deal for Stormont? ‘

“McGeough’s case raises a number of issues. While entitled to release on license after two years if pronounced guilty by the Diplock Court, he would then face the face the threat of having his license revoked by the Crown on any whim or pretext or secret evidence as was done in the case of Terry McCafferty.”

“Are we seeing a test case, to be followed by others in which respected Republicans, who speak out against Stormont, are then threatened with decades old charges? Are the new Super-grass laws and wing at Maghaberry part of this strategy? Are the new partnerships and constabulary boards making the constabulary accountable or Sinn Fein accomplices after the fact?”

One cannot help thinking Danny may have a point, many former Provos and ex-members of the INLA who have refused to agree with the Stormont setup* have long accepted armed struggle is no longer a viable vehicle to bring about progressive change and have begun to stand candidates in elections.

Could it be the British government and their Unionist allies, with SF acquiescence, fearing this, have decided to again use the judicial system in an attempt to control this process in the manner McBrearty suggests. If so they must be opposed, for the history of British justice in Ireland is a disgrace; and if people are pressurized against standing as candidates for fear of the consequences, it makes the electoral system invalid. If that happens it will amount to offering armed republican groups an open goal, as the democratic avenue will be closed to all but officially sanctioned candidates.

It is thus essential for Sinn Fein to condemn the trial of Gerry McGeough and throw the full weight of their political machine behind him. Not to do so is endorsing the corruption of the judicial process before it has even got off the ground.

* The Stormont administration is based on sectarian, back room deals, reminiscent of Tammanny Hall, US Irish politics, and the way the English governments have historically enticed their former enemies into their orbit.

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