Eamonn McCann: North justice in the dock after McGuigan killing

Cynicism surrounds policing and judicial system in Northern Ireland

‘It is a measure of the cynicism surrounding policing and justice in the North in cases which are politically sensitive or can be made to seem so that speculation is widespread that the matter will never reach court.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘It is a measure of the cynicism surrounding policing and justice in the North in cases which are politically sensitive or can be made to seem so that speculation is widespread that the matter will never reach court.’ Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has made a number of arrests following the killing of Kevin McGuigan in Belfast last week. No inference of guilt can be drawn against any of those detained. But it is a measure of the cynicism surrounding policing and justice in the North in cases which are politically sensitive or can be made to seem so that speculation is widespread that the matter will never reach court.

On the day after the Short Strand man was gunned down on his doorstep as he returned from watching two of his daughters playing camogie, Catherine McCartney, whose brother Robert was stabbed to death by members of the IRA outside Magennis’s Bar in Belfast a decade ago, called for the investigation to be taken out of the hands of the PSNI and transferred to an outside police force.

She accused the PSNI of being “more concerned about protecting the political process at Stormont” than putting members of some paramilitary organisations on trial.

“In my view the police record on these types of murders is abysmal,” she said. “Public confidence is nil and people don’t feel protected from paramilitaries. I’m in no doubt politics influences police investigation strategies. I certainly believe we don’t have an independent police force and that’s a huge problem.”

Irrespective of who killed Kevin McGuigan, every link in the chain which led to his death can best be understood in its political setting.

The shooting is believed to have been revenge for McGuigan’s alleged involvement in the killing of senior IRA man “Jock” Davison in the Markets area of Belfast in May. Friends of Robert McCartney believe Davison gave the go-ahead for the killing outside Magennis’s Bar.

On the day after Davison’s murder, Catherine McCartney said: “We wanted Jock to face justice in a courtroom, not down the barrel of a gun.”

Three people were charged in 2008 with offences arising from the killing of McCartney. All were acquitted. Catherine McCartney doesn’t challenge their innocence but argues that that absence from the dock of the alleged prime mover suggested the prosecution had been “just window-dressing”.

In November 2012, two senior Provisionals, including former Long Kesh commander Padraic Wilson, were charged with having participated in an “internal” IRA investigation of the McCartney killing. Neither was said to have been personally involved in the murder.

The case collapsed after a number of witnesses withdrew evidence, saying they had lost faith in the PSNI and Public Prosecution Service.

Last year, Wilson was among five republicans against whom charges were dropped after the withdrawal of a case relating to Maíria Cahill’s claims that she had been subjected to an IRA “kangaroo court” investigation of her allegation that she had been raped at the age of 16 by a member of the organisation.

Cahill had decided against going into the witness box, saying that she too had come to believe that, for political reasons, the prosecution was not being pursued with full vigour.

An independent review by former Crown Prosecution Service head Keir Starmer reported three months ago, upholding her complaints and delivering a damning indictment of the performance of the North’s Public Prosecution Service.

Political reasons

Mark Durkan

Former Northern Ireland secretary of state Shaun Woodward, Durkan recalled, had stopped him in a corridor and “asked me if I was concerned about what was happening to poor Padraic, and referred to the issues, difficulties and concerns that he was aware Sinn Féin had . . . He said that we couldn’t go pursuing these sorts of issues.”

The obvious meaning of these remarks is that there were political reasons endorsed by Woodward why Wilson should not have been charged in the first place.

In July 2010, former IRA man Gerard McGeough, accused of attempted murder in 1981, argued in court that he had been legally disadvantaged because of his political beliefs and that the case against him was thereby flawed and should be quashed.

Some others, he claimed, who, like himself, had been a fugitive from the Northern authorities were now being treated more favourably because Sinn Féin had attested to their support for the Belfast Agreement.

He asked for disclosure of documents which he said would show that “there is a category of individuals known as on-the-runs”, some of whom had benefited from “improper executive interference”.

Mr Justice Coghlin responded that “he was satisfied that no material should be disclosed”.

When the Downey case in February last year laid the facts of the on-the-runs scheme bare, everything which McGeough had claimed turned out to be true. By then, he had served his time. Policing in the North is as political as ever it was. Different politics these days, of course, which some say makes everything all right.

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