The Court of Appeal in Belfast has rejected political prisoner Gerry McGeough’s attempt to secure his release on the grounds of discrimination in the issuance of pardons.
On Tuesday, judges dismissed the County Tyrone man’s attempt to be granted a Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM) because he served his prison sentences in Germany and the US, rather than in a British or Irish prison.
McGeough, who was jailed last year in connection with an IRA attack June 1981, said he has suffered inequality based on political considerations after he stood as an independent republican candidate in the 2007 Assembly elections.
The former Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle member was jailed for 20 years after a judge refused to compare him with other IRA prisoners who were released under the pardon scheme.
Mr McGeough brought his legal challenge on the basis that it was unlawful to treat him differently, and that the only justification presented for doing so was based on the geography of his previous incarceration.
But Justice Anthony Hart, sitting with Chief Justice Morgan and Justice Gillen, insisted that McGeough was in a different category to those who had been released.
Rejecting the appeal, Hart said the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was an agreement signed by the Dublin and London governments and it was “entirely understandable for the respondent [the British Direct Ruler] to take the view that only those who had served two years imprisonment in either of those countries, or whose circumstances were very closely analogous thereto” should benefit from a release pardon.
“This cannot be said to be the position so far as Mr McGeough is concerned...and we can see no inequality or unfairness in the way his case was treated by the respondent.”
He also said there was “no evidence” to support claims by Mr McGeough’s legal team that political considerations were involved in bringing about his effective internment.
McGeough is now to seek to challenge the ruling to the Supreme Court in London, his lawyer confirmed.
“There are a number of points we wish to consider carefully and we have firm instructions to proceed with an appeal,” said Paul Pierce, of Kevin Winters and Co.
Mr McGeough’s reaction to the ruling could not be immediately obtained.
A spokesperson for the ‘Free Gerry McGeough’ campaign said the republican veteran was in good spirits despite the “political decision” which is “a massive gesture of contempt towards the Irish nation”.
His supporters have complained that prison authorities have intercepted mail and otherwise worked to suppress statements by Mr McGeough emerging into the public domain.
However, a statement has now been brought out of the jail and is to be delivered on the prisoner’s behalf at the national convention of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in upstate New York tomorrow [Saturday].