The family of a UDR soldier killed by an IRA bomb outside Enniskillen almost 50 years ago has welcomed the arrest of John Downey in connection with the murder.
Mr Downey, 66, was arrested in Donegal on Monday by gardai in relation to an IRA bomb attack which killed UDR soldiers Alfred Johnston and James Eames near Enniskillen in 1972.
He was remanded in Dublin on Tuesday to face a bail hearing today and an extradition hearing on November 23.
A spokesman for Mr Johnston’s family said: “John Downey has for a long period of time been suspected to have been involved in the murder of our father and his colleague on August 25 1972 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh.
“Whilst we welcome any development into the investigation of our father’s murder, we would appreciate that the media respect our privacy at this difficult time.”
In 2013, Downey was accused of murdering four soldiers in a bomb in London’s Hyde Park in 1982. The case collapsed on the basis of an On The Run (OTR) comfort letter he held from Tony Blair’s government.
Sinn Fein’s policing spokesman Gerry Kelly said it was “very hard” to see his latest arrest as anything else but “vindicative on John Downey”.
It was “bad faith” by the government, he said, as his OTR letter, issued in 2007, advised that he was not wanted. Rejecting suggestions that he was calling for an amnesty for republicans, he told the BBC that the arrest of Downey was deliberately timed to coincide with “a campaign for an amnesty for state forces”.
However, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Sinn Fein must end its opposition to republican arrests in order for innocent victims to receive justice.
“There are many families who have waited a long time for this, and Sinn Fein in their defence of John Downey has undermined that process,” he said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster MLA said Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has now got to answer two questions following her party’s “hysterical” response to the arrest.
“1. Does Sinn Fein support the independence of the police? 2. Does Sinn Fein support an independent public prosecution service?” she asked.
“Gerry Kelly, the party’s Northern Ireland policing spokesman, has accused the police, the PPS and the government of being ‘vindictive’ and acting in ‘bad faith’ because John Downey has been arrested. Meanwhile the party’s TD for Donegal Pearse Doherty said the arrest of John Downey was ‘out of order’.
“This is incredible. There is nothing ‘out of order’ or ‘vindictive’ about allowing the independent prosecution service to go about its work.”
Responding to claims that the arrest was a breach of OTR undertakings, PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Stephen Martin said the question was political and for politicians, while his job is to “investigate crime” and place people before the courts. “This is a murder investigation, a European arrest warrant has a high degree of judicial oversight both in NI and in the Republic of Ireland,” he added.