Traitors' comment over Catholic judges condemned

Gerry McGeough
Gerry McGeough

Northern Ireland minister Kris Hopkins has condemned "irresponsible and disgraceful" comments by a prominent republican calling Catholic judges and prosecutors "traitors".

Mr Hopkins called the comments from Gerry McGeough "unacceptable" as he backed the judiciary in Northern Ireland.

However, he refused to answer calls by DUP MP Jim Shannon to encourage criminal action against Mr McGeough, saying it was for the police service and prosecutors to investigate.

Mr Hopkins also confirmed there was nothing "akin to an amnesty" on the table for Sinn Fein as part of legacy issue investigations, after North Down MP Lady Hermon called the old "comfort letter" scheme "utterly deplorable, completely immoral and wrong".

Mr McGeough, previously jailed for trying to kill a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, has previously said Catholics who have served as judges and prosecutors in Northern Ireland's legal system are "traitors" who will be dealt with as "collaborators" once the English are removed.

Speaking at Northern Ireland questions, Mr Hopkins said: "I condemn the irresponsible and disgraceful comments made by Gerry McGeough.

"I strongly support the work of the judiciary in Northern Ireland. Any attack on them is unacceptable."

Strangford MP Mr Shannon urged the minister to take action over the comments.

He said: "What I am calling on the minister of state to do is to contact the PPS (Public Prosecution Service) to discover why a man who was convicted of the attempted murder of my colleague, Sammy Brush, and is released on licence for this conviction and is known to be a man with a lengthy history of violence, is not being pursued by the PSNI and the PPS for the recent threat against Catholic judiciary, naming them as traitors in the same manner.

"What will the minister of state do to ensure that action is taken?"

Mr Hopkins said the matter was one for independent commissioners to discuss, adding: "I think it would be wrong for us to seek to fix the system further down.

"I trust our police service and I trust the PPS to be able to make the right decision."

Independent Lady Hermon went on to hit out at the "comfort letter" scheme that saw correspondence sent to IRA fugitives granting them immunity from criminal prosecution.

"The minister will of course know that Mr McGeough did not receive a comfort letter, apparently because of an internal feud within Sinn Fein," she said.

"But that scheme of comfort letters for those on the run, a scheme operated by both Labour and Conservative governments, was utterly deplorable, completely immoral and wrong.

"Would the minister just confirm for the record that no such scheme, or anything akin to an amnesty, is on the table for negotiation with Sinn Fein at the present time for dealing with legacy issues?"

Mr Hopkins confirmed that no scheme was under discussion.