Picture the scene, in Belfast Magistrates’ Court in May 1974. A man is in in the dock for a remand hearing. He is charged with possession of a haul of revolvers and pistols as well as 2,500 rounds of ammunition. Some teenagers disturb the court shouting, “There’s a bomb in here.” During the disturbance that followed the man in dock escapes.
It is now 2015, over forty years since that disturbance, and the man who escaped was again in the dock. This time Sammy Tweed was charged with a further offence of escaping lawful custody. This time there is no escape for him. He is going to gaol having been sentenced to two-and-a-half years for the offences from 1974.
But the judge receives letters pleading for leniency from a number of DUP politicians including the Rt Hon Peter Robinson MLA, Leader of the DUP, and more importantly First Minister of Northern Ireland. With the calls for Sinn Féin to distance themselves from paramilitarism in recent days it seems rather incomprehensible that the First Minister was supporting someone involved in loyalist paramilitary activities in 1974.
It appears that there is some sort of double standard going on. One whereby it is OK for the First Minister to ask the Courts to show leniency on someone charged with offences relating to paramilitarism and who has been on the run for over forty years, but it is not OK for Sinn Féin to be in the Executive.
Looking towards the new session of the Northern Ireland Assembly, it looks like the DUP will seek to exclude Sinn Féin, but with this sort of action being taken, perhaps Sinn Féin ought to try and exclude the DUP.
The Ulster Unionist Party is deciding tomorrow whether it will leave the Executive following that proposal earlier in the week from its leader Mike Nesbitt MLA.
Either you support peaceful means to achieve political ends, or you do not. If you cannot maintain that in all cases, then get out of the Executive!