Recently several prominent supporters of the campaign to free Gerry McGeough forwarded emails sent from Sinn Fein for our comments. These emails say that Sinn Fein has called for Gerry McGeough’s release from Maghaberry and therefore our justice campaign should “focus our efforts on the British government, which is responsible for his imprisonment, and on the Irish government, which is a co-signatory to the Weston Park agreement.”
Gerry McGeough has been imprisoned by the British for more than a year at Maghaberry. Clearly the combined weight of court challenges, calls from political parties including Sinn Fein, together with pressure through any and all other political mechanisms, have not yet been sufficient to compel the British to free him. Like any other justice campaign, we can only try for greater efforts by any and every source open to us, until the British give Gerry McGeough the freedom to which we all agree he is entitled.
The primary focus of efforts to pressure the British crown has been legal challenges in British courts, thus far including an abuse of process application, a Diplock trial defense, appeals, and judicial review. Even now a ruling on his pending judicial review is imminent, and could mean freedom for Gerry McGeough.
Given what has already occurred in his case, and indeed in the long history of British courts dealing with Irish Republican cases, there is no assurance of justice for Gerry McGeough. If the crown judge rules against him, the only alternative means of increasing pressure on the British will be to ask more from political parties. As a party which includes a Deputy First Minister, and whose backing helped grant David Ford a renewed term as Stormont Justice Minister, Sinn Fein’s help would be pivotal.
However, the campaign is by no means limited to Sinn Fein. Eamon O’Cuiv, of Fianna Fail, and several SDLP members have visited Gerry McGeough at Maghaberry, and pledged support. Their support was only enlisted when members of Sinn Fein who support Gerry McGeough advised that their requests within party channels for effective rather than token action were stonewalled.
We then received emails and read published letters criticizing Gerry McGeough and our campaign, for not trusting exclusively Sinn Fein; and for accepting help from Fianna Fail and the SDLP despite past policies of those parties regarding Republicans. We will continue to lobby all potential channels of support that might assist in pressuring the British crown directly or through the Irish government.
Gerry McGeough is imprisoned by the British on charges that he joined the IRA in 1975 and that he was wounded in an IRA engagement with a member of the notorious British Ulster Defense Regiment, during the time of the Hunger Strike of 1981.The evidence trotted out against him included medical testimony and photographs of bullet wounds he suffered as an IRA Volunteer, as well as nearly 8 years of imprisonment for IRA activities in Germany and the United States. Given this background, and Britain’s desire to use this case as a precedent against other Republicans, it is difficult to see any mechanism for compelling the crown to release Gerry McGeough without Sinn Fein intensifying its efforts.
We also received inquiries about how much they had already done for Gerry McGeough. We hesitated before making this reply. The campaign is supported by a broad spectrum. It includes Sinn Fein members and party supporters, as well as others with very different views. The campaign is united by one aim of freedom for Gerry McGeough. We want to work constructively with Sinn Fein and all others who can help win this freedom. We have no other agenda.
We were reluctant to clarify the record regarding Gerry McGeough, since an honest response might create further difficulties or even be cited as a reason to do nothing more on the issue. It now appears given the decision to publish this correspondence in AP/RN that we have no alternative.
We wish to acknowledge again that after Gerry McGeough’s arrest in 2007, Michelle Gildernew wrote one of the character reference letters which were introduced during his bail hearing and this letter was helpful to McGeough’s solicitors. On a couple of occasions, during the four years of court proceedings, members of Sinn Fein attended the trial for Gerry and his co-defendant.
However there was a telling disparity between these actions and the far more frequent, vocal, and visible interventions by prominent DUP members, led by Arlene Foster and Maurice Morrow against Gerry McGeough.
DUP intervention, climaxed by Foster and Morrow’s presence in court to influence and celebrate the verdict, was patently obvious to the public and Diplock judge and conveyed a clear signal that the case against McGeough meant far more to the DUP, than to any other political faction
It is also appreciated that Sinn Fein members, most recently Ray McCartney in December, visited Gerry McGeough amongst other Republican prisoners at Maghaberry and said that his case among others and the protest against brutal H-Block like strip-searches were high on the agenda. However, David Ford, who presides over these injustices, then had his term extended by Sinn Fein in partnership with the DUP, and was thereby empowered to continue these injustices.
We accept that the British broke the Weston Park agreement by jailing Gerry McGeough on thirty year old charges. Britain’s stance in prosecuting former IRA members while conferring an apparent amnesty for murders by British troopers or crown constables is hypocritical. Sinn Fein, better than anyone, knows the difference between token statements meant to do no more than placate supporters and effective action on issues of importance. Without Sinn Fein, as the representative of former IRA members during these talks, demanding that “unambiguous” pledges be honored, it is apparent that the crown feels free to break its word with impunity.
Gerry McGeough’s solicitors urged the British crown court to follow the reading of Weston Park advanced by Sinn Fein. The British and Stormont justice ministry rejected this interpretation out of hand. The trial was suspended pending an abuse of process hearing.
No one from Sinn Fein took the witness stand on Gerry McGeough’s behalf. His solicitors, who have strong contacts with Sinn Fein, were forced to call a loyalist, William Smith, to testify for Gerry McGeough. The application was denied and the Diplock trial continued. We are left to speculate whether testimony from any Sinn Fein representative about what was agreed at Weston Park might have altered the outcome and halted the trial before Gerry McGeough was tried and jailed.
Now an application for a judicial review has been lodged, and a decision is pending. In addition to the Weston Park pledges, McGeough contends that he should be eligible for immediate release because the 8 years in jail in Germany and America should be applied to satisfy the 2 year GFA release requirements. His solicitors cited a dozen comparable cases where Republicans imprisoned in other jurisdictions had their time credited by means of a pardon (Royal Prerogative of Mercy). They were able to obtain and produce copies of these pardons which were attached as exhibits in support.
In making this application, Gerry McGeough in a sworn affidavit, said that while an elected member of the Sinn Fein Ard Chomairle, he often spoke to Gerry Kelly on the negotiations regarding his own case as well as other On-the-Runs (OTRS). McGeough attested that he was specifically told by Gerry Kelly that he was on the list of cases being negotiated and finally told that he was free to go home to Tyrone without fear of arrest or charges. Gerry Kelly says that “this was not the case.”
Gerry McGeough was so sure of this conversation that he not only returned to Tyrone for the first time in years, but began public preparations to move his family there, including applying for planning permission, building a house, enrolling his children in school and moving around openly. McGeough’s solicitors contend that he was removed from the list some time after he left Sinn Fein and arrested because he ran as an Independent Republican.
After this application was argued, the crown judge directed that the record be kept open for an affidavit from Gerry Kelly. Kelly had previously declined to cooperate with McGeough’s solicitors in preparing an affidavit that would have supported him.
Our understanding is that Kelly’s solicitors on January 12th sent a letter which was such that McGeough’s solicitors had to incorporate it in a submission that made reference to the “obvious tension” between McGeough’s and Kelly’s positions.
Gerry McGeough, now in his 50s, has suffered heart attacks since his arrest in 2007.Last week he was hospitalized again for his heart ailment and will need further surgery. He is separated from his wife and four young children and imprisoned at Maghaberry in conditions which can only exacerbate his medical problems. He is in jail on 30 year old charges that were clearly part of the IRA’s struggle against British rule.
It is difficult to imagine the frustrations that even someone who has served 8 years in jail, must feel to be held in a British prison in the conditions at Maghaberry on decades old charges, in the midst of what we are often told is a new political dispensation.
It must be especially hurtful, when members of Sinn Fein or supportive organizations in America, advise that they have been discouraged from campaigning for more pressure to free Gerry McGeough and are told to “focus their efforts elsewhere”
FREE GERRY McGEOUGH CAMPAIGN
31 January 2012
Thank you for your correspondence.
The Weston Park Agreement is an inter-government agreement between the Irish and British governments.
Paragraph 20 of the Weston Park Agreement states
Both Governments recognise that there is an issue to be addressed, with the completion of the early release scheme, about supporters of organisations now on ceasefire against whom there are outstanding prosecutions, and in some cases extradition proceedings for offences committed before 10 April 1998. Such people would, if convicted, stand to benefit from the early release scheme. The Governments accept that it would be a natural development of the scheme for such prosecutions not to be pursued and will as soon as possible, and in any event before the end of the year, take such steps as are necessary in their jurisdiction to resolve this difficulty so that those concerned are no longer pursued.
This agreement emerged as a result of demands by Sinn Féin at that time for this issue to be dealt with effectively.
The text of the above paragraph represents in our view, an explicit and unambiguous commitment by the Governments not to pursue a conviction against anyone, who would, if convicted, stand to benefit from the early-release scheme.
When Gerry McGeough was first arrested in March 2007, Sinn Féin called for his immediate release.
His local Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew provided assistance for Mr McGeough during the trial process.
Our position has not changed. Although Gerry McGeough will become eligible to apply for early release in less than 12 months the Agreement at Weston Park makes it very clear that he should not have been pursued, arrested, convicted or imprisoned.
However, the implementation of this Agreement and the release of political prisoners is the responsibility of the British and Irish governments and thus far the British government has refused to honour this commitment.
For our part Sinn Féin continues to press the British government on this issue. Gerry McGeough is not the only person affected by the refusal of the British to keep to this commitment.
Sinn Féin representatives have made this clear to Gerry McGeough when they have visited him in prison.
There is no ambiguity in our position. And Sinn Féin continues to work with Mr McGeough’s legal team to assist their ongoing legal bid to secure his release.
Sinn Féin will continue to press both governments to use whatever mechanism is necessary to action the Weston Park commitment they made.
It would be helpful to the campaign for Mr. McGeough’s release if those lobbying on his behalf specifically focussed their efforts on the British government, which is responsible for his imprisonment, and on the Irish government which is the co-signatory to the Weston Park agreement.
Is mise le meas,
Gerry Adams TD
Gerry Kelly's Letter:
Sent: Thursday, February 2, 2012 10:28:38 AM
Subject:Gerry McGeough should be freed – By Gerry Kelly MLA
Gerry McGeough should be freed
BY GERRY KELLY MLA
Sinn Féin Assembly spokesperson on Policing & Justice
WHEN Gerry McGeough was first arrested in March 2007, Sinn Féin called for his immediate release. We believed then, as we believe now, that he should not have been arrested and charged and that he should not have been detained in prison.
His local Sinn Féin MP, Michelle Gildernew, provided assistance for Gerry McGeough during the trial process.
Our position has not changed. When Gerry McGeough was convicted and sentenced, we were the only political party in the North to demand his immediate release. We remain the only significant political party to adopt this position.
The release of political prisoners sentenced for conflict-related actions carried out before April 1998 was agreed in the multi-party negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement. Responsibility for the release of prisoners rested with both the British and Irish governments.
The Agreement did not specify any minimum term that a prisoner must serve. However, it did anticipate that any ‘qualifying’ prisoners still in custody two years after the commencement of the early-release scheme would be released at that point.
However, the Irish Government failed to follow through on its commitment in respect of a number of men sentenced in their jurisdiction. These were obliged to serve the full sentences despite the public commitments given.
In subsequent negotiations the Sinn Féin leadership raised the anomalous position relating to ‘On The Runs’ (OTRs) –– those who were away from home for many years due to the threat of arrest and who would have benefited from early release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement had they been in prison.
The British and Irish governments agreed at Weston Park in 2001 to resolve this issue.
Paragraph 20 of the Weston Park Agreement states:
Both governments recognise that there is an issue to be addressed, with the completion of the early-release scheme, about supporters of organisations now on ceasefire against whom there are outstanding prosecutions, and in some cases extradition proceedings for offences committed before 10 April 1998. Such people would, if convicted, stand to benefit from the early-release scheme.
The governments accept that it would be a natural development of the scheme for such prosecutions not to be pursued and will as soon as possible, and in any event before the end of the year, take such steps as are necessary in their jurisdiction to resolve this difficulty so that those concerned are no longer pursued.
The text of the above paragraph represents, in Sinn Féin’s view, an explicit and unambiguous commitment by the governments not to pursue a conviction against anyone, who would, if convicted, stand to benefit from the early-release scheme.
The agreement at Weston Park makes it very clear that Gerry McGeough should not have been pursued, arrested, convicted or imprisoned.
Although Gerry McGeough will become eligible to apply for early release in less than 12 months, he should not have been arrested and should not now be in prison.
Post-Weston Park, for their own narrow political interests, the British Government failed to honour this commitment.
In the years since this agreement, Sinn Féin has, where possible, sought to facilitate a clarification of who considered themselves to be OTR with regard to the possibility of arrest should they return home to the North. Where we were able to establish that an individual was not under any threat of arrest and prosecution, we conveyed this to them directly or indirectly via family members or friends.
Our understanding is that a small number of people remain OTR. This is unacceptable to us and is an outstanding issue we are determined to resolve.
Gerry McGeough has alleged that he was told by Sinn Féin that he was safe to return home. This is not the case. He has further recently alleged (5 January):
There is a widespread informed belief that, as part of a secret deal between the Sinn Féin leadership, the unionists and the British Government, I was to be politically sacrificed. The Sinn Féin leadership desperately wants me to rot in silence in jail.
There is no basis to any of these silly allegations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Senior party figures, including Gerry Adams, have publicly called for Gerry McGeough’s release from Maghaberry and his return to his family in Tyrone.
Sinn Féin delegations have met with Mr McGeough in prison to offer support and solidarity. Since his imprisonment we have consistently raised his case with both the British and Irish governments.
Let me be crystal clear so there is no room for ambiguity – Gerry McGeough should not be in prison. His conviction is conflict-related and he would clearly have been a qualifying prisoner under the Good Friday Agreement release scheme. The fact that he becomes eligible for release in around 12 months’ time is irrelevant to this discussion. He should be freed now.
Recently, Mr McGeough’s legal team have been in communication with me and I have made every effort to assist their ongoing legal bid to secure Gerry McGeough’s release. Our support for this action and for the wider political demand for his release will continue.
On the broader issue, we will continue to press both governments to use whatever mechanism is necessary to action the Weston Park commitment they entered into to resolve this issue.