Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunday, November 7 2010

Open Letter to all International
Human Rights Organisations
Who especially handle political asylum cases
Re: Gerry McGeough

The general consensus that society in the north of Ireland must now "move on" from the era of the Troubles is being seriously undermined by an on-going legal saga that is causing growing resentment among nationalists in Tyrone and which is now starting to gain attention elsewhere across Ireland and beyond.

November 1, 2010 saw the resumption of a trial that is raising issues of major concern to international Human Rights groups as well as bringing to light matters that the British government, in particular, would prefer left untouched.

At the centre of the controversy is 52-year-old Gerry McGeough, a teacher and published author from the Brantry area of South Tyrone, who is now the focus of a political and legal storm that has dragged in the Swedish government, the U.S. and German authorities and a host of interested parties from several other nations. Added to this is a growing litany of revelations that has opened a Pandora's Box of secret deals and leaked intelligence memos that are beginning to cause major angst within some political circles.

The saga began on March 8th, 2007, the day after the Stormont Assembly elections when Gerry McGeough, who had stood as an Independent Republican candidate in the Fermanagh/South Tyrone constituency, was dramatically arrested outside the Count Centre in Omagh. A convoy of PSNI vehicles took McGeough to Antrim, where he was eventually charged with membership in the IRA in 1975, when he was 16-years-old, and with wounding a part-time member of the UDR in 1981. The arrest became news headlines within the hour

Shortly after Mr. McGeough's arrest, Vincent McAnespie, an Aughnacloy Building Contractor in his late forties, was also arrested following a raid on his home. The charges against Mr. McAnespie were eventually reduced to possession of weapons in 1981.

Explaining the unusual manner of Mr. McGeough's arrest, the PSNI claimed that they had been looking for him for years but had not been able to locate him until his appearance at the Omagh Count Centre. Mr. McGeough’s lawyers dismissed this as "ridiculous", pointing out that apart from the fact that he had been living openly in the North before the election; he was also one of the most high-profile candidates during the campaign, speaking regularly in public and making appearances on T.V. and live radio programs.

Mr. McGeough’s arrest was politically motivated and sanctioned by the British government. If a political candidate was arrested during an election in Zimbabwe, or anywhere else, the British would be squealing about human rights abuses".

After three weeks in Maghaberry prison, Mr. McGeough's lawyers finally secured bail for him following a considerable legal struggle during which the Prosecution tried to prevent his release by claiming that he was wanted in Germany and the United States for Irish republican related activities in the 1980s. When these accusations were found to be groundless, he was released on strict bail conditions, most of which remain in place over three-and-a-half-years later.

Mr. McGeough, who lives with his Spanish-born wife and their four young children, spent the next couple of years making monthly court appearances during which the case was constantly put back, sometimes for the flimsiest of reasons, such as someone at the DPP had forgotten to post a letter crucial to the investigation.

During this time, the family had to put up with many hardships including having a British Army helicopter hover and clatter over their remote rural home at eleven o'clock one night as small children struggled to sleep. They have also had to endure phone-tapping, e-mail and regular mail interception and disruption. In addition, because of the serious Troubles-related charges against him, Mr. McGeough has not been able to find work as a teacher since his arrest.

In July, 2009, Mr. McGeough suffered a massive heart-attack. That same month, the British government extended the use of the non-jury Diplock Court system for another two years. A notorious legacy of the Troubles, the Diplock Courts were supposed to have been finally phased out by 2009.

On March 8th, exactly three years after his arrest, Mr. McGeough was put on trial before a Diplock Court in Belfast. The previous day, the Sunday Tribune newspaper revealed that a secret deal had been done between the British government and Sinn Féin allowing up to fifty "on-the-run" republicans to receive Royal Pardons since the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Shaun Woodward, Britain's then Secretary of State for the North, publicly denounced the revelation as "nonsense". Shortly afterwards, McGeough's lawyers produced one of the Pardons and the Northern Ireland Office has since confirmed that a deal had, in fact, been done.

Arguing that their client, who is one of the listed "on-the-runs", was being discriminated against for political reasons, Mr. McGeough's legal team secured an adjournment of the trial after three days while they sought the disclosure of documents from the NIO for an "Abuse of Process" application.

Despite ample evidence of the existence of such material, a judge ruled that the NIO need not disclose some forty-one relevant files in the interests of "national security". He also dismissed the "Abuse of Process" application and the trial resumed on September 13th. That day consisted of having a PSNI detective read a full chapter of one of Gerry's books to the court. He had "secured" the book from a library in Dublin. The novel itself, "Defenders", is a work of fiction published in 1998. Incredibly, this has been accepted as "evidence" by the non-jury court.

The trial against Mr. McGeough, which is estimated to have cost £1 million to date, was halted again the following day after McGeough was rushed to hospital where he underwent a further heart procedure on September 17th. He has since been released from hospital and the trial resumed on November 1st.

If convicted, he will spend two years in prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement before being eligible for release on license. Mr. McGeough’s children, all of whom were born since the year 2000, are the real victims of the Troubles. This whole experience is a real trauma for them. Why should they have to be put through this?

A staunch supporter of the Peace Process, Mr. McGeough and his supporters believe he is being singled out simply because he stood in the elections and expressed a viewpoint that upset the powers that be. People are verbally upset and now starting to question “why are no British soldiers being put on trial for Bloody Sunday"? And, what about those behind the Dublin/Monaghan bombings? Either the Troubles are over or they're not. If not, then shouldn’t everybody be put on trial before Diplock Courts?

Meanwhile, the Prosecution used alleged Political Asylum application papers from Sweden as the mainstay of its evidence against Mr. McGeough. The move has raised considerable alarm among some international Human Rights groups, who argue that this violates the whole concept of political asylum and is an attack upon the rights of refugees everywhere.

Swedish Civil Servant Helen Hedebris, believed to be fanatically pro-British, obviously had been working in close collaboration with the RUC/PSNI over the years and her testimony for the prosecution, against Mr. McGeough in a Diplock trial, was disgraceful and the Swedish government should hang their head in shame for allowing her to testify for the prosecution.

In their obsessive need to prosecute and imprison this Irishman, the British obviously were prepared to turn international political asylum refugee laws on their head. This move on November 4, 2010 by the British and Swedish governments now has widespread implications for the entire concept of political asylum.

Ironically, under British law, Political Asylum applicants are guaranteed that their documents will be kept confidential and under no circumstances handed over to the authorities in the country they may be fleeing from. The Crown’s prosecution argued that this doesn't apply to material from Sweden?

Supporters of Mr. McGeough and the Good Friday Agreement are now asking that all international Human Rights organizations, especially those dealing with asylum-seekers, take the Swedish and British governments to task for their blatant disregard in using political asylum documents as evidence in the discredited Diplock Court system in the north of Ireland.

What happened here is a stain on Sweden's otherwise excellent record in the area of international Human Rights. Without this Swedish input, Gerry would now be a free man. The British and Swedish governments must now be held accountable for this and we are asking for these Human Rights organizations to press for a review of the decision on the documentation used in Mr. McGeough’s trial.

Helen McClafferty

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