Shock arrest sparks street protests by republicans

‘Continuity RUC’ behind Wilson arrest

By Francesca Ryan

After a weekend behind bars, the leading West Belfast republican Pádraic Wilson has been released on bail.

The West Belfast man had been remanded in custody after being charged with offences in relation to the murder of Robert McCartney in 2005. He has been charged with IRA membership and with addressing a meeting to encourage support for the IRA – both of which he denies.

After an appearance in court last Friday, the 53-year-old was remanded in custody, causing anger and outrage among republicans, leading to protests on the streets. During that court appearance Sinn Féin MLAs Gerry Kelly and Sue Ramsey were in attendance to show support for their party colleague, as was the well-known West Belfast republican Seán Murray.

Pádraic Wilson was a key negotiator for peace in Long Kesh in the late 1990s. Since his release he has continued to play a central role in supporting and developing the political process.

His arrest and detention was slammed as “political policing” by Sinn Féin.

On Monday, several hundred supporters took part in a protest at PSNI HQ at Knock in East Belfast to call for the immediate release of Mr Wilson.

Agenda

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on policing, Gerry Kelly, told those assembled that the allegations against Mr Wilson were driven by an “old agenda within the PSNI”.

“We believe that this arrest is politically motivated, that it comes from within the Serious Crime department of the PSNI and it is, frankly, a small minority still within the PSNI who are against new beginnings to policing and who are using things like this to put it into crisis,” he said.

“They aren’t trying to find answers to long-running questions. This is not about bringing the killers of Robert McCartney to justice, it’s quite the opposite. It is targeting people who wish to help.”

The North Belfast MLA referred to a “Continuity RUC” element in the PSNI, a minority, he said, that is trying obstruct the changes to policing.

On Tuesday, Mr Wilson was released on conditional bail after Mr Justice Horner agreed that there were no grounds to suggest that he would interfere with witnesses.

His release was welcomed by North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly who said his party will continue to fight the allegations.

“Sinn Féin welcome the release of Pádraic Wilson,” he said.  “The simple fact is that he should never have been charged in the first instance.

“These are politically motivated charges and should be withdrawn by the PSNI.  Sinn Féin will continue to campaign to have these charges withdrawn.”

Pádraic Wilson is due to appear again in court on November 30.

Editorial, page 21

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