The arrest of a prominent South Armagh republican this week was described by Sinn Féin as an act of “political policing”.
Sean Hughes appeared before Belfast Magistrates Court today [Friday] charged with addressing a meeting for the purpose of encouraging an illegal organisation and membership of an illegal organisation, namely the Provisional IRA. He was granted conditional bail.
Mr Hughes was arrested at his family farm in Jonesborough on Wednesday. He is the second mainstream republican to be held in connection with the McCartney case in recent months.
In November, west Belfast man Padraic Wilson was charged with membership of the Provisional IRA and holding a meeting in support of the organisation.
Sinn Féin held a protest at PSNI headquarters in east Belfast following the arrest of Mr Wilson. He remains on bail awaiting trial on the charges which he has denied.
Both arrests came after the sisters and partner of Robert McCartney made fresh allegations in relation to meetings they say they held with the Provisional IRA in 2005. They have argued the meetings took place as a result of their investigations into the stabbing and death of the east Belfast man outside a Belfast city centre bar.
Mr Hughes is a veteran republican and a long time supporter of Sinn Féin. His arrest was widely seen as an attempt by the PSNI to “balance” the detentions this week of loyalist flag protest leaders, including the arrest of prominent Armagh loyalist Willie Frazer.
“It seems the same political charade that was being played out before Christmas with Padraic Wilson is again being played out with Sean Hughes,” said the local Sinn Féin MP, Conor Murphy.
“As we said then those behind this agenda need to be removed from policing before they inflict further damage on the Peace Process.
“This is not about bringing the killers of Robert McCartney to justice. It is in fact the opposite. That became very clear in the court proceedings before Christmas.
“It is no coincidence that the PSNI chose to move against Sean Hughes on the same day they finally moved to act on those who have organised 12 weeks of illegal protests in Belfast and elsewhere.
“In a bid to create a media impression of balance they underline in very stark terms the very political nature of this move.
“Sinn Féin will continue to support Sean and his family until this political charade is brought to an end and Sean is released.”