Pressure is growing on the authorities at Maghaberry prison to release internee Gerry McGeough, who suffers from a serious heart condition, into hospital care.
Mr McGeough is a republican ‘dissident’ and a former member of the Sinn Fein leadership. He was arrested four years ago in connection with an IRA attack in 1981. Although qualifying under the release terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the prominent Tyrone republican was handed a 20-year prison sentence by a non-jury Diplock court earlier this year in a judgement widely seen as politically motivated.
Despite winning a judicial review of his case in July -- on the basis that he served three years for IRA offences in the US and should be eligible for immediate release -- he learned this week that a hearing of the review will not be possible until December at the earliest.
The following article by Martin Galvin summarises the background to the case.
A growing online campaign can be found at https://freegerry.com/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/freegerrymcgeough/
It has been said that Republicans who do not view joining Britain’s Stormont administration as a means to end British rule, are permitted to disagree. Those holding such views require no such permission, any more than would their commitment to a united Ireland need the terms of the Good Friday deal to become a legitimate aspiration. The script usually follows with a challenge to put it to the test at elections, in words reminiscent of John Hume or Gerry Fitt during the years when the SDLP claimed to be the elected representatives speaking for the community.
This challenge, and boasts about a new era of justice were literally put on trial in a Belfast Courtroom in the case of Gerry McGeough. It was a trial conducted after the appointment of a compromised justice ministry, agreed by the DUP and Sinn Fein. All of the constabulary boards and partnerships which were touted as safeguards of this new era of justice were clearly in place. Such claims were in the dock alongside the Tyrone Republican. The verdict is clear.
The arrest, trial and 20 year sentence imposed in the case of Gerry McGeough seem far less to do with events of thirty years ago, than with retaliation for his actions in March 2007 and his temerity in standing for election as an Independent Republican, opposed to any embrace of a re-branded Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Gerry McGeough, now over fifty, married and settled with four young children, was charged with joining the Provisional IRA in 1975 at age seventeen, and in the midst of the 1981 Hunger Strike, taking part in an IRA ambush of an armed member of the UDR, in which McGeough was seriously wounded.
He could have been arrested more than 20 years earlier simply by lodging an extradition warrant during his four years of imprisonment for the IRA in a notorious German bunker prison, or later during the three years spent imprisoned in the United States on IRA related weapons charges. Nor were charges made when he returned to live openly in Tyrone, nor even as he campaigned in BBC studio debates, at public rallies, or speeches given outside constabulary barracks with his campaign posters prominently displayed. Instead the crown moved against him only in March 2007, outside the polling centre where his votes were being tallied.
Why was Gerry McGeough singled out, at a time when former senior IRA members are part of a British Stormont Administration?
The explanation seems unmistakable. Gerry McGeough was the victim of a retaliatory arrest which brought new meaning to the phrase political policing. His arrest was intended to stop him from standing again as an Independent Republican, and perhaps more importantly as a message to other veteran Republicans, who had earned their stripes in the struggle and might consider putting it to the test at elections. If you stand for election as an Independent Republican, decades old charges will be trumped up against you.
ABUSE OF PROCESS
McGeough’s solicitors believed that the thirty year delay in bringing charges warranted dismissal as an abuse of process. They were encouraged by a case that seemed to be directly on point under consideration by the very same judge. The family of Nora McCabe, helped by Relatives for Justice, applied for charges against RUC members for her murder on July 9, 1981, and for perjury during the cover-up which followed. RUC members claimed that they fired the fatal plastic bullet in response to rioting, burning vehicles and an attack by petrol bombers. Film taken by a television crew showed none of it was true. Crown Judge Coghlin denied the McCabe family’s application. Too much time had passed, he said. Any charges preferred now after so many years would be a clear abuse of process and inevitably dismissed. While deeply disappointed for the McCabe family, the case seemed to guarantee a dismissal for Gerry McGeough
However Coghlin applied different rules in the case of Gerry McGeough, for an incident which occurred four weeks before Nora McCabe was killed by the RUC. Time and delays here meant nothing. Representatives from British-Irish Rights Watch and the Committee for the Administration of Justice had traveled to the court to monitor the hearing on this crucial issue. Coghlin began the hearing by excluding them from the courtroom.
The pledges from the crown to Mr. McGeough conveyed through Sinn Fein that he was free to return to Tyrone were discarded. Delays were McGeough’s fault. He was somehow faulted that no extradition warrant was filed or that no attempt to arrest him was made at his home or at campaign events and debates. Meanwhile RUC members were excused for colluding in the ongoing cover-up of Nora McCabe’s murder. If the vaunted safeguards of a compromised justice ministry, constabulary boards and partnerships mean anything in bringing justice to nationalists, how can the same judges still bend the same rules in favor of the RUC and across the backs of nationalists?
During the period from his arrest until last February’s sentence, the British government acknowledged several murders and murder cover-ups of innocent nationalists committed by crown forces. When Cameron euphemistically called the Bloody Sunday murders, unjustified and unjustifiable killings, he was tacitly admitting that British troopers had committed crimes of murder or manslaughter, and that their sworn testimony before Widgery or Saville was perjury. No arrests of any of these troopers followed. The crown apologized to the family of 12 year old Majella O’Hare, murdered as she walked to confession. While admitting that sworn testimony about IRA snipers and crossfire was false, the crown made no arrests of those troopers for a murder cover-up. No one expects arrests of any members of the British Army or RUC who colluded in murders by their loyalist agents or tortured nationalists at interrogation centers and then sent them to Long Kesh or Armagh, with perjured accounts of voluntary confessions. Clearly the crown has bestowed an amnesty on members of the British Army and RUC that does not extend to those Republicans like Gerry McGeough who speak against the British administration.
A Diplock trial was ordered. Those tasked with drawing up repressive British laws often seem to choose their terms with a deliberate sense of irony. Words like ‘temporary’, ‘emergency’ or ‘special’ invariably create provisions and powers which are permanent, lasting and routinely used.
Diplock Courts were deliberately created to replace Internment, with a sham trial that could be counted upon to dispose of Republican opponents. Diplock Courts were abolished, as British secretary Owen Patterson emphasized, in responding to an inquiry from then MEP Joseph Higgins. Abolished of course means never used except in each and every case where the crown deems them useful.
The evidence was such that only a Diplock Court would entertain much less credit. There was no identification by any witness. McGeough was forcibly stripped and photographed after his arrest. Photos of an old wound were displayed as the crown speculated that it might possibly be a bullet wound, and possibly sustained in 1981.
A bullet fragment with no forensics or DNA link to McGeough was introduced. The smashed fragment may or may not have been the same caliber fired by then UDR member Sammy Brush. A key Garda witness, known as the “The Badger”, was described by former MI6 officer Fred Holroyd as someone with ties to British intelligence. When asked about his these links with British intelligence the “Badger” refused to answer.
Pages from a fictional book authored by Gerry McGeough were read into the record as evidence. Finally a political asylum application, whose confidentiality is a cornerstone of international law, was admitted without hesitation.
During the trial McGeough suffered two heart attacks. The judge ordered constables to view him at the hospital where he was confined and retrieve his medical records. In 1916, British commanders monitored the work of doctors to keep James Connolly alive until troopers could shoot him. Here it seems that the crown judge feared Gerry McGeough might die from a heart attack before being sent to prison. The verdict was a foregone conclusion. The flimsy evidence somehow became inescapable proof of guilt. The crown judge would not delay jailing McGeough for medical documents but directed that he be taken forthwith to Maghaberry. Senior DUP members who attended the trial expressed joy that the judge had delivered for them.
Thirty years ago Republican political prisoners were in the midst of a Hunger Strike in Long Kesh. It had been forced on the prisoners by years of beatings and brutality, much of it accompanying mirror searches or strip-searches of the prisoners. Today in Maghaberry the same sort of brutal strip-searches are being inflicted, despite an agreement last August that the practice would be halted. On his day of sentence McGeough was subjected to such a search. He was brought to hospital instead of court. His solicitors noted that brutality of this type could be life threatening. Again the compromised justice ministry or Stormont offices brought no protection to Republican prisoners facing the same sort of callous brutality that Brendan Hughes and Bobby Sands resisted.
He was sentenced by video-link and was not brought to the court. The judge imposed a twenty year sentence, angry that Gerry McGeough expressed no remorse for IRA membership. It is said that he will only serve two years. To paraphrase the old saying made famous by Ernie O’Malley, it is easy to sleep on another man’s two years.
However the early release provided by the Good Friday deal is by no means guaranteed. Already Republicans have seen such releases arbitrarily revoked and license used as a license to jail at will in cases like those of Marian Price, Terry McCafferty and Martin Corey. No one who has followed this case would be surprised if still more injustice awaits Gerry McGeough.
PostScript: Following the publication of this article Gerry McGeough was granted a judicial review of his claim that he should have been credited with the three years served in America for IRA offenses in the 1990s and immediately released under the GFA. A schedule for briefs and proceedings will be set in September.