In April 2000 the High Court |in Dublin ruled that Brixton Prison escaper Nessan Quinlivan should be extradited to Britain to face charges of conspiracy to murder and cause explosions, as well as escaping from prison and wounding with intent.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly said there were no circumstances that would render it “improper, unfair or |oppressive” to order Quinlivan’s extradition and added that the offences for which his extradition was sought “were not political offences”.
Lawyers for Quinlivan had argued that it would be largely pointless to extradite him to Britain because, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, he would probably be freed by July of the following year.
Perhaps therein lies the part motivation behind yesterday’s announcement by the Crown Prosecution Service in London that it was no longer seeking the extradition of Quinlivan and his fellow Brixton escaper Pearse McAuley.
Almost certainly lawyers for both would have successfully argued that the offences they were charged with in 1991 were of a “political nature”, or that both would benefit from the sentence remission provisions flowing from the Good Friday Agreement.
Extradition cases between Britain and the Irish Republic have generated shrill exchanges between politicians on both sides of the Irish Sea since the 1970s — most notably between Margaret Thatcher and Charlie Haughey.
For the mandarins in Whitehall and Stormont, the rancour that some cases generated not only got in the way of diplomacy, but, on occasion, actually impeded carefully orchestrated developments behind the scenes.
For Sinn Fein, proceedings to extradite McAuley and Quinlivan from Dublin to London at this juncture would have given dissident republicans new opportunity to allege that Adams, McGuinness and company remained subservient to Britain.
Nevertheless, it’s difficult to see how the CPS could cogently argue that the extradition of the IRA pair would have proved unsuccessful on the charge of escaping from lawful custody at Brixton Prison in 1991 and could not have been satisfactorily proven beyond a reasonable doubt in even a Dublin court, never mind a court in London.
Securing convictions on the charges on which they were remanded to Brixton may have proved a tad more difficult given the passage of time, the death of witnesses and the possibly flawed recall of testimony provided nearly 20 years ago. And, even if they were convicted on all charges, the early release sentencing provisions would have greatly negated the impact of a 10 or 20 year sentence for conspiring to murder or conspiring to cause explosions.
Nevertheless, the decision does raise major questions about the motivation behind it and whether political overtures were successfully orchestrated to deter the thought of extradition.
Jeffrey Donaldson, Jim Allister and others from the unionist side of the house have understandably vented their anger at the CPS and the alleged political shenanigans that they claimed brought about the decision — and many share their concerns.
Overall, political considerations aside, the question that has to be addressed is whether the expensive legal exercise of seeking |the extradition of McAuley or Quinlivan, and thereafter mounting lengthy trials for their alleged IRA deeds in England in the late 1980s, would have benefited the taxpayer. What it does, however, draw attention to indirectly is the purpose of the Historical Enquiries Team in Northern Ireland and its decisions to mount prosecutions in some old cases.
What if HET detectives arrive at a conclusion in the future that either or both of these fugitives from British justice was involved in the commission of a murder in Northern Ireland for which they were never interviewed, would its current boss, Dave Cox, approach the CPS or the DPP here seeking a new extradition warrant for either? Somehow, right now, I very much doubt it.