Chris Ryder: Why extradition has always been the bane of relations between Northern Ireland and its southern neighbour
Ever since partition in 1922, the exchange of suspects between Belfast and Dublin has been freighted with constitutional implications - and Brexit will only make matters worse, writes Chris Ryder
When the British and Irish governments concluded the Sunningdale Agreement in December 1973, it was left to the judiciaries in both countries to flesh out how critical provisions for cross-border extradition would operate in the courts.
So, days after Christmas, the most senior judges and civil servants gathered in Hillsborough Castle, where Sir Robert Lowry, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, presented them with a forensically argued paper that extradition was perfectly viable under longstanding legislation.
Although the discussions continued over a good lunch and ended with fine cognac and cigars, the lack of progress was deeply discouraging.
The two sides gathered again in Dublin a short time later. The Irish hosted the negotiation in the Kings Inn and laid on the best of fare and alcoholic refreshment for dinner. This time, Lowry's efforts to focus the talk onto the detail of his paper were in vain. At the end of the evening, one of the Irish delegation pulled him aside; no Irish government would ever pass an extradition act.
Ever since partition in 1922, there had, indeed, been no formal arrangements for exchanging offenders, but the RUC and Garda operated an informal method, which is best described as 'shove extradition'. The police from both sides nominated a remote border rendezvous where they shoved their prisoner out and drove away. The other force swept by and collected him.
But as the Troubles in Northern Ireland escalated after 1969, the extradition issue assumed overwhelming political importance. The-then prime minister, Brian Faulkner, was facing great criticism within his ruling Unionist Party for failing to contain the violence.
Much of the public outrage centred on the failure of the Irish government to hand over the "terrorists" for trial in Northern Ireland and to strengthen the border. Over the succeeding years, the border was blamed for giving the IRA sanctuary and an operational and training base.
Against this permanent backdrop, both the Westminster and Stormont governments continuously struggled to get the violence under control. Although they nominated extradition as the most urgent topic when the two sides gathered at Sunningdale at the end of 1973 to mould new institutions and security measures to restore peace in Northern Ireland, as we have seen, they came away empty-handed.
After these negotiations, it was anyway decided that the Irish courts would be asked to use the well-aged extradition laws to highlight their inadequacy and deflect public attention when the opportunity arose.
But the outcome was not what they had expected. Hitherto, many British extradition requests had been rejected on trivial grounds. In one case, the complaint was that the papers were not collated in order, while, on another occasion, the use of a pin rather than a paper clip caused another rejection. Another set of papers were ruled invalid for poor-quality imaging by fax.
But the most far-reaching development was the emergence of an interpretation of the Irish legislation that anyone subject to an extradition request, even for murder, could not be handed over for trial in Belfast because they had committed a "political" offence.
In all, from 1973 until 1979, there were 110 extradition requests for the Republic of Ireland, but only 42 suspects were ever arrested and only eight individuals handed over to the RUC. One of them was the notorious Dominic McGlinchey, who was captured after a shoot-out and swiftly extradited.
But, in October 1985, the Appeal Court in Belfast quashed his life sentence on grounds of insufficient evidence and, in an ironic twist, ordered he be extradited back to the Republic.
Over the succeeding 25 years from 1973, extradition popped in and out of the public view, and there were only 42 extraditions granted out of 197 applications. Just eight were committed to trial.
Meanwhile, the judges combed the fine print of their learned journals in a steady flow of trials. But the academic air of the courts was far from the horror of constant terrorism on the streets outside. There, ever more sophisticated combat continued to take life and destroy property.
At the turn of the century, following their own long-standing difficulties with an international surge of terrorism, the power-brokers in the EU decided to clarify the law on a European basis, with all member countries involved.
The resulting European Arrest Warrant, created in 2004, simplified the voluminous paperwork and transformed international law enforcement.
Nowhere was the initiative more welcome than in Ireland. But, despite the PSNI hailing its importance pre-Brexit, the fact that only some 50 PSNI European Arrest Warrants have been issued since 2004 would suggest it is not as deadly a bow and arrow as claimed and not the most urgent of causes as the potentially pyrrhic consequences of Brexit emerge.
The Government is said to be preparing for an Armageddon scenario, and businesses throughout Britain are paralysed by uncertainty about what lies ahead. On top of all this, the Irish border issue must be settled. With only weeks to go, Britain has not yet produced a workable plan to cope with the unparalleled change that is looming. The Republic, rightly, says that the British, having created the problem, now have to resolve it.
Any Brexit settlement has wider problems for the UK, with Northern Ireland and Scotland originally voting to Remain. Moreover, the Cabinet is split between the 'little Englanders' who brought the entire country to the brink, and another faction who are predicting a car-crash with all its collateral problems.
I've said all along that pacifying the little Englanders, who so thoroughly hate Europe, amounts to political and economic suicide. I judge that many Leavers and a majority of MPs now oppose Brexit as the catastrophic consequences take shape.
Because the talks remain in deadlock, we are warned of the need for heavy security. The prospect of renovating four old police stations is as nauseating as the unwelcome prospect of heavy lorry convoys with police having to check and protect them.
Chris Ryder is the author of The RUC 1922-2000: A Force Under Fire (Arrow)