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Dublin: 17 °C Sunday 31 May, 2020

Alleged IRA bomber John Downey granted bail in extradition case

Northern Irish authorities are seeking the surrender of John Downey over the murder of two British Army Infantrymen in 1972.

Image: Shutterstock/Derick Hudson

A DONEGAL MAN wanted for the murder of two Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers in Enniskillen in 1972 has been granted bail by the High Court in Dublin.

Northern Irish authorities are seeking the surrender of John Downey (66) to face prosecution for the murder of two British Army Infantrymen as well as aiding and abetting the causing of an explosion on 25 August, 1972.

Lance Corporal Alfred Johnston and Private James Eames were killed when a device exploded in a vehicle they were checking on the Irvinestown Road, Cherrymount, in Enniskillen.

Downey was arrested at his home address in Ards, Creeslough, Co Donegal on Monday on foot of a European Arrest Warrant issued by Northern Irish authorities.

When presented with the warrant by Det Sgt Jim Kirwan, of the Garda Extradition Unit, Downey told the detective “I’d say it was the DUP and not the DPP” who decided to prosecute him.

He was granted bail by the High Court today on his own bond of €5,000 with an independent surety of €30,000 put forward by a man named Michael Barrett.

High Court judge Justice Aileen Donnelly said it was an appropriate case for bail.

She said there were guarantees in place which lessened the flight risk despite the lack of information about funds available to Downey’s family.

She said there was evidence that Downey resided at a “substantial property” and “for some reason” the property had been “transferred out of his name” to that of his wife last year.

Justice Donnelly said she had to “take the view” that Downey had access to a “greater level of surety” through his family and “acquaintances”.

She noted that sums of cash “quite distinct from having money in a bank account” had initially been put forward.

Downey will be required to sign on daily at Letterkenny Garda Station, reside at his usual address, provide a mobile phone number to gardaí and keep it switched on at all times, remain in the State and not apply for travel documents, attend the High Court when ordered and keep the peace.

He was returned to prison while terms of bail were finalised.

Objecting to bail, Det Sgt Kirwan asked the court to have regard to the gravity of the alleged offences and the “likely sentence” on conviction – life imprisonment.

The full hearing of Downey’s proposed extradition to Northern Ireland will take place on 23 November next.

Downey’s trial in relation to the 1982 London Hyde Park bombing – in which four soldiers and seven horses were killed – collapsed in February 2014 over a letter sent to him and other alleged republican paramilitaries.

The letters, issued by the Tony Blair Labour government, told the republicans they were not wanted for prosecution of crimes committed during the troubles.

The “on-the-run” scheme and letters, which fully emerged following the collapse of Downey’s 2014 Hyde Park trial, triggered a major political controversy and lead to an inquiry.

Downey is the first so-called “on-the-run” republican to be charged with offences since the scheme was found by a House of Commons committee to have “distorted the process of justice”.

Counsel for Downey, Tony McGillicuddy BL, said points of objection to his client’s extradition were already drafted and “other matters” were being explored.

McGillicuddy said he could see a substantial point being raised in relation to Section 39(2) of the European Arrest Warrant Act which states that a person shall not be surrendered where he or she has, in accordance with the law of the issuing state, become immune, by virtue of any amnesty or pardon, from prosecution or punishment in the issuing state for the offence specified in the European arrest warrant issued in respect of him or her.

Counsel submitted a copy of the 2014 Central Criminal Court judgment which found the prosecution for London’s Hyde Park bombing should not continue against Downey.

He said correspondence was issued to Downey by the British government in 2007 and “certainly a focus of Downey’s objection” to being surrendered “will focus on that”.

He said another argument was being explored “under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement” in relation to whether the maximum penalty for offences committed during the Troubles was two years imprisonment.

McGillicuddy said he had not had an opportunity to explore these matters in detail given the timing. However, he said he believed they were issues which could come under the “abuse of process heading”.

McGillicuddy said his client had committed to the peace process in a positive manner and had carried out various reconciliation work with communities and state agencies since the early 1990s.

At various periods over the past 20 years, Downey has travelled to Northern Ireland for Peace Process meetings and his engagement was positive.

He said Downey’s passport had been handed over to gardaí, he had no history of receiving warrants and no history of “evading justice”. He said any concern Downey was a flight risk was simply not made out.

McGillicuddy said his client fully complied with bail conditions imposed during his 2014 trial for the Hyde Park bombing. He had signing on conditions, was subject to a curfew and had to reside in London.

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

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