Downey celebration cancelled due to fears over ‘media circus’

Trial of republican collapsed after court told he had letter saying he was not at risk of arrest

 John Downey whose trial collapsed after it was revealed to the court that he was the holder of a letter from the Northern Ireland Office confirming he was not at risk of arrest or prosecution. Photograph: EPA

John Downey whose trial collapsed after it was revealed to the court that he was the holder of a letter from the Northern Ireland Office confirming he was not at risk of arrest or prosecution. Photograph: EPA

Sat, Mar 1, 2014, 15:01

The Donegal republican at the centre of the on-the-runs controversy has cancelled a homecoming celebration.

Sinn Féin said in a statement that John Downey decided to not to hold a “get-together” planned for this evening “to allow him to thank those who supported him throughout his arrest and imprisonment in England”.

Mr Downey was suspected of involvement in the IRA Hyde Park bombing in 1982 in which four British soldiers were killed.

However, his trial collapsed after it was revealed to the court in London that he was the holder of a letter from the Northern Ireland Office confirming that he was not at risk of arrest or prosecution.

The judge’s ruling sparked a political crisis at Stormont with First Minister Peter Robinson threatening to resign unless the British government held an inquiry into the provision of letters of comfort to republicans who are on-the-run. A judge-led review was promised by David Cameron on Thursday.

Plans for Mr Downey’s homecoming were posted on social media, to the anger of some unionists.

According to Sinn Féin Mr Downey has said he would never try to insult or add to the hurt of anyone who is bereaved as has been suggested in the media and that he will not allow the event to be turned into a media circus.

He said: “Some elements of the media are portraying the event planned for tonight as triumphalism and insulting to bereaved families. That was never what it was about.

“On the contrary, since long before the Good Friday Agreement I have been working to promote peace and reconciliation between our people on this island, meeting with members of loyalism and unionism in trying to put the past behind us and move into the future in peace together.

“My goal is, as it always was, a united Ireland where everybody is equal. I would never try to insult or add to the hurt of anybody who is bereaved as I am only too aware of their pain as there are many bereaved families also in the republican community.

“I refuse to allow what was planned as a simple get together of family, friends and neighbours who supported me throughout my wrongful arrest and imprisonment in England to welcome me home and allow me to thank them, to be misrepresented and turned into a media circus,

“For this reason I have decided to cancel the homecoming get together planned for the Lagoon [pub] tonight and I know that my friends and neighbours will understand.”