A court bid by Gerry Adams to overturn two 1975 convictions for attempting to escape from prison has heard that his initial detention was illegal.
While Mr Adams is not disputing the escape attempts, his lawyers on Tuesday told a court in Belfast that he had not been lawfully detained in the first place, and therefore could not be convicted of escaping.
Convictions dating from the conflict frequently create problems for republicans seeking visas to visit other countries. Mr Adams was among hundreds of people interned without trial in the north of Ireland in the early 1970s, under a policy intended to break nationalist resistance to British rule.
During that time, 1,874 nationalists were interned. Mr Adams’s convictions arise from his attempts to escape the infamous cages of Long Kesh.
It is being argued that Mr Adams’s internment order had not been considered by a British Secretary of State, as it should have been, but by a junior minister.
The future Sinn Fein leader was one of four internees caught trying to escape through a hole cut in a perimeter fence on Christmas Eve, 1973.
The following July, he again attempted to escape by switching with a visitor at the prison. The court heard that a man who bore a resemblance to Mr Adams was given a false beard to like him. A plan was launched to substitute him for the future Sinn Fein chief amid scenes of confusion, but Mr Adams was arrested after being spotted by staff in the car park area. He was subsequently sentenced to 18 months in jail for attempting to escape.
Mr Adams’s bid to overturn his convictions centres on the recovery of a document from the National Archives in London.
The 1972 ‘Detention of Terrorists’ Order required that the British government must authorise interim custody orders used to intern suspects, but at a senior level. The court was told that only a junior minister in the ‘Northern Ireland Office’ signed the order for Mr Adams’ internment in July 1973.
“It’s only the Secretary of State who can be responsible for the decision to make the order,” said Sean Doran QC, for Mr Adams.
But prosecution barrister Gerry Simpson QC said the Secretary of State could not be expected to be informed of every case of internment without trial.
“It would be absurd to expect the Secretary of State to deal with every case,” he said.
Judgment was reserved.