Much ado the past few days about Blair, 'On The Runs' and the peace process, but let's keep in mind that without the Troubles there would have been no OTRs to begin with. And also that some should have profited from this scheme but instead were thrown to the wolves by their own, likely deemed unworthy of inclusion by an arbitrary decision-making process that excluded potential adversaries at the behest of the Sinn Fein leadership.
Many in the Unionist community take issue that a 'deal' on OTRs was reached at all, when the truth is the scheme did not go anywhere near far enough. My issue with OTRs is not that it let anyone off the hook but that it didn't go far enough and (like everything else the leadership negotiated) we got the short end of the stick.
Like everything else it was done on Britain's terms with a carrot thrown in to keep us happy – or more accurately to keep THEM happy and to secure their position, with no threat of two years in gaol for some. The greatest leadership in history my arse. Spin that yarn to Gerry McGeough, who spent two years in Maghaberry thanks to their ineptitude. Or was it ineptitude? Perhaps something more was afoot.
The dogs in the street know McGeough was shafted to put him out of the picture politically, while Michelle Gildernew, the Adamsite darling, could only be the better-positioned for it. God forbid an independent-minded voice within the republican movement. A calculated political move which raises its own set of questions regarding the relationship of the leadership to the state and a disgrace from start to finish – from the original selection convention in June 2000 to the carting away in the back of a police car at the count in Omagh nearly seven years later. I’d venture the two are connected at some point, if only in terms of the agenda being served.
That aside, the reasoning in McGeough being gaoled is it sets his actions as an IRA Volunteer inside the paradigm of an acceptable British law. In this narrative McGeough is breaking the law and being suitably punished whereas state agents, like his direct opponent, are elevated to a higher moral plateau – as are the mechanisms used to ensure a conviction. That OTRs pose a threat to this narrative is the source of the recent hullabaloo.
The key aim of the British is to frame the conflict as a criminal undertaking and the arrest, political show-trial and unsafe 'conviction' of those like Gerry McGeough is part of its strategy. Many, out of blind loyalty to the leadership and its pathetic negotiating abilities, are sadly content to go along with that, regardless of how it impacts on the legitimacy of men like Pete Ryan, Jim Lynagh, Martin McCaughey and their actions.
This approach would see such men happily subjected to British Diplock Courts today, if they'd somehow managed to escape the death-trap set for them, went on the run and returned home years later thinking it was safe to do so – absent of course that all important letter, which some were deemed worthy of and others not. Would Jim and Pete have been deemed worthy? Would Martin? Who knows but who would trust it.
Some would have it they should just be grateful no matter, sure what’s two years away from your family and loved one’s anyway. That's the pitiful notion those like Sinn Fein Councillor Michael McIvor promote when publicly claiming McGeough done alright and should be thankful for his lot – whether they see it or not.
Constitutional issues aside, the 1998 Agreement was poorly negotiated around such issues as prisoner-releases and conflict-related 'offences'. It created a situation whereby it was acceptable practice for a British Diplock Court to try and convict this man, and others such as Scotchy Kearney, using all the various legal manipulations and lowering of the standards of 'law' long employed against and objected to by republicans.
That some now accept the legitimacy of these legal processes is a victory for Britain and a shafting of the IRA Volunteers who stood up against and called such reactionary 'laws' for what they were and are – repression. That ‘letters of comfort’ are set to be withdrawn while the republican leadership continues to sit in Stormont is just the broom-handle being rammed up their backsides all the harder.
Under the British-imposed narrative, in which republicans now acquiesce, the state had a right to prosecute its violence whereas republicans had none – not even to defend themselves and their community. The evidence around Bloody Sunday, collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane and the refusal to grant inquests into a plethora of state killings speaks for itself, the British justice system is designed to protect its own and set them apart from 'terrorists' like Gerry McGeough, who are to be gaoled while the state and its agents walk free.
Those who consider the underhand mechanisms employed to stick McGeough and his like behind bars as acceptable fare, and anything other than the product of inept negotiating at best, the deliberate removal of a political foe at worst, are either fooling themselves or are that far removed from the republican struggle they no longer care about the broader picture.
What amounts to the effective collapse of the OTR scheme, at the behest of political Unionism, serves the same end for Britain as the gaoling of McGeough and Kearney, to show republicans their place within the British law, which can be altered and employed against them at will, if and when required. The only difference on this occasion is that ordinary Volunteers were not alone in being shafted, this time the leadership was shown its place in the order of things too.