A man who once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness was last night behind bars in Maghaberry Prison after being convicted for an attempted murder 30 years ago.
Gerry McGeough is the first republican to be jailed for historical crimes since the Good Friday Agreement. He was yesterday convicted of attempting to murder UDR member Sammy Brush in 1981 and of IRA membership in 1975.
“Long live the Irish nation!” he shouted as he was led from court in handcuffs. Brush, who was in court for the verdict, said justice had finally been done and it was a day he had long awaited.
McGeough (52), from the Brantry, Co Tyrone, is a former Sinn Fein ard comhairle member. He will be sentenced next month but should serve no more than two years under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
His lawyer Peter Corrigan last night wrote to the NIO requesting a royal pardon for his client. Pardons have been secretly granted to on-the-run IRA men, allowing them to return home and not face prosecution. Mr Corrigan said: “The law must be applied consistently. Under the Good Friday Agreement, my client is entitled to the same treatment as others. We will give the NIO a week to grant a pardon. If they refuse, we will seek a judicial review on the basis that Mr McGeough hasn’t been treated equally.”
McGeough’s co-accused, Vincent McAnespie (47), from |Aughnacloy, was acquitted of arms possession with intent to endanger life.
There was a tense atmosphere outside Belfast Crown Court as heavily armed police in riot gear gathered in an adjacent room. McGeough’s supporters packed the public gallery.
Former Tyrone IRA commander Brian Arthurs, Danny McBrearty of the Republican |Network for Unity, John |McDonagh of the US-based Irish Freedom Committee, and former Sinn Fein politicians, councillor Barry Monteith and MLA Gerry McHugh, were present. Part-time postman and UDR member Mr Brush was shot by two IRA gunmen as he delivered mail near Aughnacloy in 1981.
Although injured he returned fire, wounding one gunman.
Mr Justice Stephens said he had no doubt this was McGeough who, two hours later, was admitted to Monaghan General Hospital with a gunshot wound.
He drew an “adverse inference” from McGeough’s failure to give evidence and to explain scars on his body consistent with surgery after a gunshot wound.
He cited a 1983 application for political asylum made in Sweden in McGeough’s handwriting in which the applicant described himself as having shot a British soldier.
Outside, McGeough’s wife Maria and his four young children cried uncontrollably.
Mr Brush, now a DUP councillor, was congratulated by the DUP’s Arlene Foster and Lord Morrow.
Mr Brush said: “It’s been a very traumatic time for me. I still suffer from stress and my injuries.
“This verdict sends out a message to any young person thinking of becoming involved in terrorism — you could be looking over your shoulder the rest of your life and your past could catch up with you.”