Prosecuting John Downey

The arrest and subsequent court appearance of John Downey, ‘a member of Sinn Féin and a long time supporter of the Peace Process’,  in London last week once again shows how the political ink with which the Good Friday Agreement had been scripted is now being steadily erased and a dark law enforcement atrament being shaded in to replace it.  Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, bluntly acknowledging the political context to the Northern conflict, ‘once said that the answer to the Northern Ireland problem required the criminal justice system to be turned upside down.’

The criminal justice system and its organic relationship to British Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs), helped prime and then fuel the explosion of Northern political violence. This rendered it most unsuited to any resolution of that conflict. The upending referred to by Blair was a necessary reform without which even an outcome as limited as the GFA was (measured against republican objectives), would have been well-nigh impossible to get across the line. 

The more that process of turning the criminal justice system upside down is reversed, the less the scaffolding that supports conflict management is to be seen in place. It may well be thought in London, Dublin, and Washington that the structure of the GFA is so firmly embedded, and republicanism so thoroughly defeated, that it no longer requires the props. Whatever substance there may be to that, it is hardly a risk-free venture lacking in sufficient incendiary spark to ignite the ever increasing pool of the North’s more combustible elements.

There seemed no better way of underscoring the tangible political reversal than placing a Sinn Fein member in front of ‘a London court ... on the 15th anniversary of the ratification of the Good Friday peace accord.’ It is so easy to imagine Owen Paterson and his right wing colleagues in the Tory Party cheering ‘Tally ho. Take that. Box the Provo scoundrel’s ears. Absolutely spiffing old bean.’

Outside of the legalities of the courtroom there seems to exist a wider political endeavour geared towards rescuing the image of the British state from the partial but grave culpability it was implicitly compelled to assume for the conflict when it agreed to serious compromises on the law enforcement issue.  This repair work on damaged image manifests intself in the exclusive prosecution of non state actors.

John Downey faces charges relating to the deaths of British military personnel at the height of the Northern conflict.  His party colleague, the Provisional IRA trail blazer for bombing London, Gerry Kelly, accused the British of bad faith and described their action as ‘vindictive, unnecessary and unhelpful.’ He continued:

As part of the Weston Park negotiation the British Government committed to resolving the position of OTRs. John Downey received a letter from the NIO in 2007 stating that he was not wanted by the PSNI or any British Police Force. Despite travelling to England on many occasions now six years on he finds himself before the courts on these historic charges.

Sinn Fein seemingly does not do irony. We need only recall the vitriol hurled against myself and Ed Moloney for having accepted the word of Boston College that there were no circumstances in which the material gathered for its archive could ever be accessed by law enforcement. Now we have Sinn Fein protesting that the party was shafted, having earlier accepted the word of the British in relation to no further law enforcement interest in past cases. Arguably, given the experience of republicans, there were fewer grounds for believing the word of the British than that of Boston College. Ultimately as it turned out neither were worthy of belief.

Meanwhile, Kelly’s party leader Gerry Adams has taken to blaming 'securocrats'. Not only is that a discredited tactic hitherto employed to give cover to many post ceasefire IRA actions, it also suggests a dissonance between the British state and some of its officials in the RSAs. It is simply implausible in the face of so much mounting evidence to contend that the British state is not up to its neck in these measures. They are pursued with state endorsement rather than mere toleration.

The British state's ability to behave in this manner is made all the easier by Sinn Fein double standards. The Irish Times reported the DUP’s Nigel Dodds MP as having ridiculed Sinn Féin’s complaints saying it has spent 'years, if not decades pursuing inquiries into the security forces or any agency of the state in Northern Ireland.' Why then would anyone read as serious the party's calls for fairness articulated through a demand for the release of John Downey but the prosecution of the Bloody Sunday paratroopers?

The prosecution of John Downey presents Sinn Fein with greater difficulties than the internment of either Marian Price or Martin Corey even though both are being held on foot of activity they committed as Provisional IRA volunteers prior to the GFA. The party faithful who could afford to ignore the arrests of republicans - sure they are just dissidents anyway - are now confronted with the prosecutors calling at their door too. It is too late for the party leaders to begin thinking Pastor Niemoller might have had a point.

Party leader Gerry Adams has said 'Sinn Féin has consistently raised all these matters with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste'Which means as consistently as the party has raised them it has just as consistently been ignored. The implicit strategic message is that other than raise it with the Dublin government who will then be blamed for not persuading the British to desist, Sinn Fein will carry on pretty much as before: saying something and doing less while the British snidely observe 'big hat, no cattle.'

Sinn Fein, if it had even a smattering of anti British state radicalism left, would pull out of the power splitting executive, demanding that a revanchist law enforcement ensemble with political backing not be allowed to mulch the fibres and sinews that pulled the structure of Sinn Fein's much vaunted solution into place. More than any other factor, law enforcement crystallised the repressive relationship between the British state and Northern nationalism. To allow it to reassert itself as a means of exculpating its responsibility, is to thrust a dagger through the heart of whatever spirit supposedy breathed life into the Good Friday Agreement.

In terms of advancing a radical agenda Sinn Fein has gained little since joining the executive and stands to lose even more by remaining in it. Pull the plug while in a position to do so. It is all being drained away in any event.


  1. Anthony

    Good piece, its becoming clear with this arrest and before it Padraic Wilson the British authorities are testing the water. It really is a Niemoller wake up call for SF.

  2. I'd say Mick they were testing the waters with Price, McGeough and Corey and the failure to take a stand at that point has led to the present situation. Then as now rhetoric was used alongside calls for other agencies to act rather than to exert the political power available to Sinn Fein to bring about a resolution, because the party is so wholly dependent on the system it can't risk going beyond this position.

    Anthony, I wouldn't be expecting to see anything along the lines of what you're suggesting. Sinn Fein is fully compromised and would prefer to persist with what is ultimately proving itself to be an unjust system than to try and do anything about it should that mean the loss of position and privilege they've built up in the course of the last 6-7 years.

    The Brits are low-down dirty bastards lifting yer man for stuff that happened years ago. Now you see why Sinn Fein should have made a bigger deal about Gerry McGeough. Because they said nothing worth talking about, when they should have been shouting "foul" from the rooftops, they've left the door open for every Volunteer who the Brits can connect to past actions getting scooped, convicted and locked away for two years.

    Maybe the fools like Michael Henry might actually realise after reading your post that Anthony McIntyre had a point all along, but I'd expect when they've come this far and ignored all the evidence then like their leadership they'll just carry on regardless. As before we can just expect the approach of rhetoric to appease the grass-roots while the untouchable leadership continues to wine and dine in the corridors of power

  3. Mick,

    the Wilson arrest has occured in a different context.

    It can be argued that the arrest of Downey was an act of political policing whereas the failure to arrest Wilson would have been an act of political policing given the SF stance on all matters post 1998.

    While I am of a view that there are good reasons to be opposed to the arrest of Wilson I don't think the SF one applies.

    Sean Bres,

    not a chance of SF taking the proposed line of action. That is why they kicked it into Kenny's court.

  4. Brits "can't have it both ways", as Thickie's mom was fond of saying.
    Picture a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.

  5. Lets hope John has his , "Get Out Of Jail Letter" , this is political policing , The Brits having another Go at SF , trying to drive holes into it.
    The kelly fella Knows the weston park accord (20) was not implemented and the Dail chucked it out as well.

    No one should be arrested for pre 98 offences. That's my personal stance on the matter.

  6. While at the same time Barra McGrory calls for the abandoning of historical prosecutions, well, after the brit's have got theirs out of the way leaving their murderers in BOF, RUC, UDR and other loyalist groups safe from prosecution.
    This whole approach smacks of withdrawal of Cameron's Bloody Sunday apology and it's replacement with Croppy lie down, again!

  7. Perfibious albion. I fear John will have equal dissappointment when it comes to SF launching a worthy campaign against his detention as he will have at the Brits going back on their word. But hey whats a wee letter from some RUC back room decision maker compared to a Royal pardon. Has John like many others possibly shown discontent as to the inaction of the party in regards of many issues that got them where they are including Internment. Good luck John. I think you are going to need a lot of it.

  8. Hope that John will soon be home and does not have to go through a court chase by clue-less brits-nothing in the GFA to stop anyone being lifted-charged-or found guilty and given time to serve over events which happened before 1998-The GFA just helps them being transfered to serve their time in Ireland and for that person to get out after two years-if they are found guilty-

    The main reason the brits don't go after their own troops or bonds is because their own don't come under the GFA-and would have to do their full terms inside-

  9. While at the same time Barra McGrory calls for the abandoning of historical prosecutions, well, after the brit's have got theirs out of the way, leaving their murderers in BOF, RUC, UDR and other loyalist groups safe from prosecution.
    This whole approach smacks of withdrawal of Cameron's Bloody Sunday apology and it's replacement with Croppy lie down, again!

  10. And to think we have had to listen to great Sinn Fein say that they should have been the party to negotiate a deal with the IMF as they had a proven track record in dealing with the British
    It’s really hard to believe that such a top priority item was left out of the agreement. Had they forgotten in their lust for power that there was every chance that people who committed offences against the crown were liable to be brought to account.
    How could they declare the disbanding of the Provo’s and decommissioning without having taken care of their comrades who were on a wanted list pre 1998.
    A complete amnesty in 1998 was the answer for all sides and anyone who breached the rules after that would be held accountable
    The impression coming from the British around the time of the Belfast agreement was that they were in favour or an amnesty but it was the Provo’s who wouldn’t agree ???

  11. Mickeybroy the reason that the brits dont go after any of their "troops" is because they won the war simple as. I,m wondering was the arrest of John Downey a reminder to quisling $inn £ein that they need to know their place, their voting against the new NCA may have pissed a few securocrats of,

  12. Michaelhenry,

    you are wholly right about what is not in the GFA. The question is how did SF accept something so weak?

  13. Marty-

    The brits won fcuk all-and like the huffs they are they act like spoiled brats-they are still crying over those dead horses and sefton ffs sake-

    It was right to oppose the NCA-and it is right for x prisoners to get any position in Government or the Assembly-

  14. AM-

    "how did SF accept something so weak?"-

    Whats weak about it-what was wrote had to be accepted by the people-maybe you would like to put down what you would have wrote inside the agreement to do with prisoners which would have been passed at the election stage-I thought Sinn Fein negotiaters done a great job-they got it passed-

  15. I have posted this before on TPQ.

    Hope Anthony doesn't mind me posting it again , just to refresh people memories regarding weston park accord (20).

    "This is why.

    GFA Weston Park Accord (20)

    Le gach deá ghuí,
    Question No. 127
    Parliamentary Question - Dept Details

    To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason he is not pressing that an agreement made between the Irish Government and the British Government be implemented in full, and that as agreed at Weston Park that no further prosecutions and consequently prison sentences will be imposed on those who committed offences before 10 April 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

    Éamon Ó Cuív.

    For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 28th February, 2012.
    Ref No: 10899/12


    Proposed draft legislation by the British Government to deal with this specific issue as referred to in paragraph 20 of the Weston Park accord was formally withdrawn by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain MP, on 11 January 2006. The draft legislation, the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, had been opposed by the majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly parties and the Secretary of State was compelled to withdraw the legislation when the only supporting party, Sinn Féin, could not accept certain aspects of the proposed legislation. As the Government was committed to introduce proposals only in tandem with the British government and in accordance with the consensus of the democratically elected Assembly parties, the withdrawal of the Bill meant that the proposals for dealing with the matter in this jurisdiction were also withdrawn."

    I hope someone in SF can explain fully what they objected to re paragraph (20). To many different reasons given , but , putting that aside , the Brits (Hain) was adamant to get rid of it , that is why people are being arrested and charged for pre 1998 offences, and , the Dail should have objected to the withdrawal of Paragraph (20).
    SF should not have signed the GFA until that paragraph was embedded into the GFA. Then everyone would be safe for pre 1998 offences , alas , that is no longer the case.

  16. "I thought Sinn Fein negotiaters done a great job-they got it passed-"

    By michaelhenry

    Aye they got it past you lot...

    each time you put index finger to keyboard, mickhenry I see why shinners are called sheep. Cause it's easy to pull the wool over your eyes.

  17. Michaelhenry,

    really what you mean is that it had to be got past the unionists and the unionists still wanted people prosecuted. Nationalists would have accepted a complete and immediate release scheme with no trawling the past for prosecution purposes.

    Incidentally, at the Whiterock meeting just prior to it being passed Jim Gibney told the audience that from a republican perspective the GFA would be thrown in the bin. Its redeeming factor was that it was ok from a constitutional nationalist point of view.

  18. Mickeybroy "the brits won fuck all " lol your a gegg,thats why their soldiers still carry weapons while those weapons belonging to the Irish people have been destroyed without the consent of the people here,as for the negotiation skills of quisling $inn £ein well the results and recent arrest speak volumes about that,and still no brit will be charged for Bloody Sunday or Ballymurphy nor will any cop or ex cop serve any time for the multitide of murders through collusion.quisling are what you and your cronies are and thats the bottom line sin é

  19. Good article and a worthwhile suggestion but the reason that SF/MI5 will not pull out of Stormont or the GFA is very simple…..the leadership is compromised, right across the top…there isn’t one member that isn’t and they are controlled and in turn control……the leadership needs to be removed first.

  20. Itsjustmacker,

    no worries. Keep getting the information out there

  21. Michaelhenry,

    do you really feel that establishing the right of the British to charge John Downey is a good negotiating outcome?

  22. I like all the theory's-i have a couple myself-

    1-the brits are putting a message out that no more OTRs are allowed to travel to England or use a English airport to get to another destination-

    2-The Cavalryman Pedersen who was on sefton during the hyde park attack killed his two children and himself around the 30th anniversary
    of the attack-the brits now want to be seen to be doing something about that attack-

  23. Michaelhenry:

    "You like the Theory's"?

    I fail to see any theory's on this thread.

    taking your 1st one , has not all the OTR's been accounted for?.

    If my memory serves me right, I believe the last OTR was Pol Brennan , who was returned to Ireland from the USA.
    Are you suggesting that John Downey was an OTR?.

    You have to accept that the Brits are coming down on SF like a ton of bricks, you have to face facts .

    As for sefton , I was going to back that horse in the national, I got info that it was near legless.

    But I will say this , It was sad that Pedersen Killed his own two children , no person of sound mind would do such a thing to his/her own kin , so naturally he was deranged at the time of his horrific deed , Don't forget , He was going through a very rough time with his wife , who left him and got custody of the children. RIP to those innocent children. To me he was saying, If I can't have my Kids, no one can. So that theory of the Brits wanting to be seen to be doing something about the attack is out the window, It was a domestic dispute.

  24. Sinn Fein fight tooth and nail to keep jobs for the boys and girls in Stormont while the ordinary people who voted for them struggle to keep their benefits.

  25. Good on ye Dixie, they'll gurn about one of their supporters unjustly lifted while their supporters outside scrape on the breadline, including those of us in employment while they live off our taxes, Mary Lou McMiddleclass pays her household charge expecting others to face further wage cuts and further tax rises.
    I've no time for the brit agenda in locking up former Irish combatants while their own forces dander past me on the street impervious and comfortably reassured they will not answer for their crimes.
    Please remind me, what was it Joe McDonnell et. al fought for?