Prominent Donegal man and former republican prisoner John Downey is behind bars tonight as part of a surprise bid to extradite him to British jurisdiction to face IRA charges dating from 1972.
Mr Downey was arrested by Gardai police in Creeslough, County Donegal on Monday and brought to the High Court, where a judge this evening ordered him remanded until a full extradition hearing on November 23. Mr Downey has also been ordered to be held until a separate bail hearing on Thursday.
A member of the Garda Extradition Unit told the court today that he arrested the 66-year-old veteran republican at his home on foot of a European Arrest Warrant and cautioned him.
In reply, Mr Downey told the detective: “I’d say it was the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] and not the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions]” who decided to pursue the matter.
Mr Downey was previously arrested at Gatwick Airport in 2014 in connection with the 1982 IRA attack in Hyde Park, London, but the case collapsed when it emerged he had been given a British government letter to confirm he was not wanted for questioning.
The letter was part of a scheme to resolve the status of some republicans known as ‘On The Runs’ (OTRs), who faced outstanding prosecutions following the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Around a dozen supporters of Mr Downey attended today’s brief hearing in Dublin including Sinn Fein TDs Pearse Doherty, Dessie Ellis, Sean Crowe and Martin Ferris.
Although the court heard that the veteran republican has had a pacemaker fitted, it ordered that he be remanded behind bars until Thursday.
Speaking outside the court, Mr Doherty, a Donegal TD, said it was his view that the arrest was wrong.
“It won’t be lost on anybody that this has happened at a time when the British government and authorities are looking for a blanket amnesty for their own soldiers given the spotlight is on them for their activities in the North,” he said.
British police have never previously sought Mr Downey’s extradition, and there was dismay that Gardai decided to act on an extradition warrant at this stage, particularly in light of the events of 2014. The decision to effect the arrest is being linked to the appointment in September of notorious former RUC figure Drew Harris as 26 County Garda Commissioner.
In a statement, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly said the arrest and remand of Mr Downey was “an act of gross bad faith” by the British government.
“The allegations against John Downey have already been dealt with and the British Government has publicly stated that he is not wanted in connection with any offence,” Mr Kelly said.
“This was asserted in the courts.
“John Downey has been a supporter of the peace process over many years and to pursue his arrest and extradition now is vindictive and bad faith.
“It breaks commitments given by the British Government and is an effort to overturn the court’s findings.
“It also again gives lie to claims by British Prime Minister Theresa May that the legacy process is skewed against former state forces.
“This false assertion is motivated only by a desire to secure immunity and impunity for British state forces guilty of crimes in Ireland.”