first, it seemed that the snatch of Independent
Republican candidate, Gerry McGeough from the
polls on quarter-century old charges, was merely
a vindictive British constabulary getting its
own back at a man who had campaigned so fiercely
against backing them. When Ian Paisley bellowed
that Sinn Fein complaints about the arrest would
not be tolerated in his Stormont, and would if
repeated collapse any cabinet formed, it seemed
that McGeough may have been another chip demanded
of the British by the DUP. However, when the RUC-PSNI
compounded its stage-managed arrest with a blatant
subterfuge to block McGeough's release on bail,
a more sinister meaning began to emerge. Is a
clear and chilling message being communicated?
Gerry McGeough had said himself that this election
was a start not a finish of a campaign that would
continue in the next election and beyond. Were
the British moving to eliminate Gerry McGeough
from the next election? Are other prominent Republicans
who played an active part in the struggle and
who were prepared to stand and speak against the
RUC-PSNI being told to keep their heads down?
Are Republicans being told that you may still
aspire to a united Ireland but only within the
constraints of accepting the unionist veto and
British administration? Gerry McGeough had argued
that the renamed RUC-PSNI was the same force which
had inflicted so much suffering and repression
in the name of the crown and should never be trusted
much less endorsed by any Republican or nationalist.
No words of his however could have proven McGeough's
point as eloquently as the deeds of the RUC-PSNI
in arresting and holding him.
The background of this case is well known. Gerry
McGeough has lived quite openly in the Eglish
area near Dungannon in County Tyrone. He resided
with his wife Maria. Their three young children
are enrolled in the local school . He worshipped
at the same parish church where his parents and
grandparents are buried. As a popular member of
the community and prominent Republican, his presence
in the area and movements would have been no secret.
If the RUC-PSNI had any actual evidence or charges
to make against Gerry McGeough, they would have
long ago done so. There would have been no difficulty
in locating him. It would have taken little more
than checking with the post office that sorted
his mail or the telephone service that provided
the landline to his home.
When the British and DUP required that Sinn Fein
must endorse and fully cooperate with the RUC-PSNI
in order to gain admission to Stormont, Gerry
McGeough was one of many concerned Republicans
who disagreed. They organized meetings, debated,
and argued that Republicans should say no backing
for a renamed RUC-PSNI, which had brought so much
suffering and death across the six counties as
the cutting edge of British rule. He contended
that it was wrong in principle for those who pledged
to remove British forces and end British rule
to now endorse crown forces and row in behind
British rule. Moreover, it was wrong pragmatically
to become hostage to the whims of a constabulary
who might go softly at the moment, but having
banked the political cover of a ballot box endorsement
might and likely would return to repression. He
was cheered in Derry at the Tower Hotel, brought
the debate to a Sinn Fein meeting in Tyrone and
presented his analysis cogently to newspapers,
television and radio.
the analysis of concerned Republicans went unheard
or unheeded, the idea of standing candidates opposed
to the RUC-PSNI began to emerge. Gerry McGeough
was asked to go forward as a way for others to
say no at the ballot box. He was an obvious choice.
Gerry McGeough had impeccable Republican credentials.
He had been a leader in the 1981 Hunger Strike
campaign, played an active part in the struggle,
spent years in the notorious German bunker prison,
more years in American prisons for Irish Republican
Army actions before returning to Ireland and being
elected to the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle. He was
one of those who sadly and with deep regret felt
obliged by the patriotic beliefs which moved him
to join the Republican Movement, to leave Sinn
Fein. Those who wished to misrepresent the man
or demonize him as a way to undermine his candidacy
might belittle his deep religious beliefs, or
even claim he was splitting the vote, but there
was no credible way to disguise the fact that
Gerry McGeough had paid his Republican dues and
earned the right to be heard and taken seriously.
nomination papers would have included his address
but still there were no RUC-PSNI charges or attempt
to arrest him. He carried his analysis of no backing
for the RUC-PSNI, no more concessions to Paisley
and demanding a united Ireland by peaceful means
to towns and doorsteps across Fermanagh and South
Tyrone. He frequently began his conversation with
voters by politely introducing himself and then
saying "Vote against the RUC". He challenged
all comers in BBC debates and recounted that his
most telling moments were not the questions about
whether Sinn Fein members should inform against
Republicans opposed to the RUC-PSNI and the chasm
between the polar opposite demands of the DUP
and Republican base. Gerry McGeough instead cited
the near foaming at the mouth reaction of the
DUP members at his calls for a re-united Ireland,
which they shouted at him, was a dead issue under
the Stormont Deal.
Here was a man who attended BBC studio debates,
handed out flyers with his name and photo, and
introduced himself to voter after voter at times
under posters bearing his name. Still the RUC-PSNI
made no move and had no charges to press against
He also said privately that this campaign was
not about March 7th. There was no way to overtake
in 10 weeks the 20 year head start that Sinn Fein
had, particularly with a shoestring budget in
a divided constituency. This campaign was a beginning
towards the future. A number of Sinn Fein party
election workers, activists, and even councilors
had joined him. It would take time but the arguments
had been made and considered if not yet accepted.
If Sinn Fein now espoused working within the British
administration and adopting the politics once
held by the SDLP, could concerned Republicans
take the Republican ground left behind?
As the votes were being counted Gerry McGeough
along with his election agent and campaign workers
waited at the count centre. He had left some necessary
documents in his car and went to retrieve them.
He told his companions to watch the vote count
that he would be right back. The minutes turned
into hours. Gerry McGeough had disappeared. More
time would pass. Then a phone call would be made
to his election agent. Gerry McGeough had been
surrounded by the RUC-PSNI as he went to his car
and held on a 1981 charge, the year that McGeough
had played a key role in the Hunger Strike campaign.
Another man Vincent McAnespie, whose wife is a
Sinn Fein councilor in Monaghan and supports Sinn
Fein, was also charged. The alleged victim was
a UDR man now a DUP candidate.
No one could recall an incident even at the height
of British repression where the RUC-PSNI had arrested
a candidate at the polls . Many Republicans believed
that the term " political policing"
was a misnomer and that the role of enforcing
British rule and law upon unwilling Irish subjects
was inherently political but not policing. However
when the RUC-PSNI can snatch candidates at the
polls who advocate a political vote against the
crown constabulary, on quarter century old charges
that term does seem to take meaning.
Gerry Adams and Michelle Gildernew protested the
arrests. Ian Paisley bellowed in reply that any
criticism of the RUC-PSNI arrests would not be
tolerated in his Stormont and he would collapse
any cabinet for failing to give what he demanded
as acceptable full cooperation with the RUC-PSNI.
would be a week before Gerry McGeough would appear
in court in Enniskillen, ironically a town where
McGeough had been campaigning in the town centre
only days before. His solicitor was Peter Corrigan,
who fights cases with a spirit and dedication
reminiscent of Pat Finucane. A large number of
concerned Republicans protested outside and filled
the court despite RUC-PSNI efforts to intimidate
The crown was caught in a clear contradiction
. They were at pains to deny the obvious. Clearly
they were aware that Gerry McGeough lived in Tyrone
and done so for a long time. Why had they waited
until the votes were cast if not counted? Were
they concerned about taking an action which might
increase his vote by proving his point? Were they
afraid of the old slogan 'Put him in to get him
out" in a constituency which had elected
Bobby Sands MP? Was there never a case or charges
that even a Diplock Court would entertain?
Peter Corrigan called the charges an abuse of
the electoral process . The last piece of evidence
collected by the crown was obtained in 1994, thirteen
years earlier. Corrigan said that McGeough had
never been arrested because" there was no
case in 1981, no case in 1994 and no case today.
" It also emerged that while held Gerry McGeough
was forcibly stripped by the riot squad and video-taped
while naked. Was this really to photograph possible
wounds that could have occurred at any time or
was it an attempt to humiliate a candidate who
had humiliated the RUC-PSNI by identifying them
with their past misdeeds?
Another week would pass before Gerry McGeough
would be scheduled for a bail application. His
co-accused had been granted bail two days earlier.
His wife and supporters hoped that McGeough too
would be released on the first step towards whatever
passes for justice in a Diplock Court for an Irish
Minutes before the bail hearing began, the crown
informed his solicitors that McGeough had jumped
bail in the United States and was wanted in Germany.
Without notice or advance knowledge, his solicitors
were forced to adjourn the application rather
than risk a denial of bail because of American
or German proceedings about which there was no
These claims were blatant lies. In Germany the
case against Gerry McGeough had collapsed twenty
years earlier. He had in fact been extradited
to America after years of trial and imprisonment
because there was no evidence to convict him.
He was sent documents formally acknowledging that
there were no further proceedings against him.
In America McGeough was charged as part of a conspiracy
to obtain weapons for the IRA. He was not in the
United States at the time that the charges were
unsealed and the first arrests were made.
In that case something remarkable had occurred
. Federal Judge Charles Sifton had initially seemed
openly hostile to accused Gabriel Megahey, Eamon
Meehan, Andy Duggan and Colm Meehan. During the
trial a transformation took place . Perhaps it
occurred when the judge read confidential British
documents about the backgrounds of the four. Others
suggest it occurred when the judge heard testimony
about two of the men being tortured in Long Kesh.
Judge Sifton publicly noted on the record that
the accused were honorable men who were motivated
by unselfish concern for Ireland. After they were
found guilty, the judge called Mr Megahey up to
the front and said if he gave his word on behalf
of all the accused to honor all bail conditions,
he would allow the four to remain free pending
sentence , but if anyone of them broke bail it
would mean no release for any future IRA suspects.
When Gerry McGeough was sent from Germany, Sifton
noted the honorable conduct of those tried earlier
and said that he would grant bail on the same
basis. Gerry McGeough honored his bail conditions
in every respect. When he agreed to plead guilty,
he was promised a three year sentence. Sifton
allowed him to remain at liberty until directed
to report for sentence. McGeough complied He presumably
can only face a two year sentence on these charges
under the Stormont Deal. How can the crown argue
that a man who would not flee a 3 year sentence
in America would flee Ireland rather than face
a 2 year sentence?
McGeough's solicitors in America and Germany have
been contacted to supply affidavits confirming
that the crown's claims were blatantly untrue.
Hopefully McGeough will have been rescheduled
for a bail hearing and granted release by the
time you read these words.
Meanwhile those who said that the PSNI is not
the RUC or is not the inherently irreformable
cutting edge of British rule saw their claims
disappear along with Gerry McGeough outside the
vote count in Tyrone on March 8th.