A high-profile republican who branded Catholic judges and prosecutors “traitors” who will be dealt with as “collaborators,” committed no offence, police have said.
Gerry McGeough was released on licence in 2013 after serving two years of a 20-year sentence for the attempted murder of a part-time UDR member.
These remarks in no way represent the values of the AOHAOH assistant secretary John Shanahan
The former Sinn Fein ard comhairle member – and current president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Co Tyrone – was convicted in February 2011 of attempting to kill Sammy Brush near Aughnacloy 30 years earlier.
In a radio interview with New York-based Radio Free Eireann last August, McGeough said: “There are people from republican families who are sitting as Diplock court judges, and prosecutors, and all the other stuff of the day you can’t possibly imagine, and they are arrogantly passing judgment on patriots.”
Commenting on his most recent experience of Northern Ireland’s justice system, he told the show’s host Martin Galvin: “Anyone who showed resistance was deemed to have had ‘bad character’. So you have Irish Catholics, traitors in effect, administering British rule here in the six counties.
“We want [the English] out and then we will deal with all these other issues ... the collaborators and all the rest of it.”
McGeough’s remarks caused outrage and were widely condemned by unionist politicians, the Bar Council of Northern Ireland and victims of terrorism – including Ann Travers whose sister Mary was murdered by the IRA during a gun attack that also seriously wounded her Catholic magistrate father in Belfast.
Following the original News Letter article based on the wide-ranging radio show interview, the PSNI confirmed it was investigating the remarks.
At the time, a PSNI spokesman said: “Police are aware of the comments and have received a number of complaints. Inquiries are ongoing to determine if any offence has been committed.”
A few days later, Martin Galvin told the BBC’s Talkback programme that his radio guest had not intended to threaten anyone with his remarks.
Mr Brush was a 38-year-old postman and part-time UDR sergeant when McGeough ambushed him at a remote farmhouse during a mail delivery.
Although critically injured, Mr Brush managed to return fire with his personal protection weapon and seriously injured McGeough.
McGeough was convicted in 2011 of attempted murder, possession of a firearm and ammunition, and IRA membership.
He had been elected as Tyrone AOH president shortly before he was jailed and was re-elected to the post in March 2016.
Soon after McGeough’s ‘traitor’ comments, AOH assistant secretary John Shanahan said the organisation would have “great difficulty” with anyone making such public statements.
“Unfortunately, Mr McGeough speaks only for himself, and certainly not for the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Not for our national board, not for any of its constituent component parts. He has made remarks that are political in nature, that is not the character of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
“Our motto is ‘friendship, unity and true Christian charity’ and these remarks are certainly not in that vein. They can be comforting to no community, and we completely disassociate ourselves from his remarks.”
Mr Shanahan added: “From what I can see in the remarks he made no reference to the AOH, but I can tell you unequivocally that these remarks in no way, shape or form represent the values of the AOH, the ethos of the order, and we would certainly have great difficulty with anyone who made such statements in public.”
• In August Ann Travers said: “I find what [McGeough] said to be a bit of a threat to people like me, who are now standing up and speaking out.
“Does he think that I’m a traitor because I’m a Catholic and I speak out against the IRA? Is that what he’s saying, because my dad was in the judiciary? Do we still have to fear them?”
Mrs Travers said there never was any justification for the campaign of murder, and added: “They were not traitors and they gave more to this country than [armed republicans] ever have or ever will.”
TUV leader and QC Jim Allister described the comments as “despicable” and questioned whether they amounted to “incitement”.
Mr Allister said: “They are not some abstract political attack on Catholic judges, but come in the horrific context of the IRA having carried such invective through to murderous attacks on members of the judiciary from a Roman Catholic background who dared to serve on the bench.”
Bar Council chairman Gerry McAlinden QC condemned the comments as “sinister” and added: “Any attempt to intimidate members of the judiciary or members of the legal profession engaged in prosecution work is to be deplored by all right thinking members of society.”