McGeough: trial reopens this week

An application for political asylum in Sweden allegedly made almost 30 years ago by a former IRA gunrunner and Sinn Féin ard comhairle member is due to be used as evidence against him in a Belfast court.

According to documents released to Britain by Sweden, Gerry McGeough app­lied for asylum in 1983 when he was an on-the-run IRA member living in the Swedish city of Malmo. McGeough's lawyers will argue that the material should be excluded by the court.

Political asylum applications are generally regarded as confidential and it is understood that it will be the first time such documents will be used against a republican.

During the Troubles, dozens of IRA members applied for asylum in various European countries. A legal precedent could be set if the material in McGeough's case is deemed admissible with other historical asylum applications then being used to charge republicans.

An IRA suspect from Waterford was granted asylum in the 1970s in Sweden where he lived with his wife and family. The man, whose name is known to the Sunday Tribune, returned home after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement believing he wouldn't be prosecuted.

McGeough is charged with IRA membership in 1975 and the 1981 attempted murder of UDR man Sammy Brush. His trial, which began in March, reopens this week. He is the first republican to be charged with historical crimes since the Good Friday Agreement.

His lawyer, Peter Corrigan, said: "I understand republicans applying for asylum in Sweden at that time were advised by their lawyers that all material was confidential and they wouldn't be prosecuted on the basis of information provided.

"Indeed, the current position of the British government is that, in the public interest, asylum claims made by foreigners arriving in Britain are confidential. That is clearly stated on official forms given to asylum seekers. Gerry McGeough should have exactly the same rights."

Last year, the then British Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, told the House of Commons: "Information re­ceived from asylum seekers is treated in confidence and details of their claims are not disclosed to the authorities of the country they fear being returned to."