THE SHOCK ARREST of Bobby Storey, the Chair of the Six-County Cúige of Sinn Féin, last week during the PSNI investigation into the murder of Kevin McGuigan in August was used by unionist parties vying for electoral advantage to threaten to bring down the political process at Stormont.
Storey’s arrest led to a flurry of accusations by unionist politicians and the media that were used to justify the Ulster Unionist Party’s and later the Democratic Unionist Party’s actions to try and sanction Sinn Féin, plunging Stormont into crisis.
After two days in police custody, Bobby Storey was released unconditionally.
In a tweet soon afterwards, lawyer John Finucane said:
“After two days in Antrim, my client Bobby Storey has been freed. No evidence was put at any stage and my client will be suing for unlawful arrest.”
In an exclusive interview with An Phoblacht, Bobby Storey said he is “personally livid” at his arrest and, “on a political and democratic level”, how it has been exploited by the unionist parties to try and undermine the power-sharing Executive and Assembly at Stormont. But, despite his clearly burning anger, he reaffirms his continuing and passionate support for the Peace Process.
How do you feel after your arrest and release without charge?
First of all, there are two families who have been bereaved by the brutal murders of Jock and Kevin and both of those grieving families have my wholehearted sympathy.
The people who carried out these killings are criminals; they are enemies of the republican peace strategy and the Peace Process overall. They should face due process. The only way to deal with these killings is through the criminal justice system.
I repeat calls already made by my party colleagues that anyone with any information should come forward and give it to the PSNI.
Self-appointed gangs like this ‘Action Against Drugs’ group are well-known in the community as a hybrid of pseudo republicans, criminals, extortionists and thieves who have nothing to offer anyone other than misery. They are a cancer, they are anti-republican, and they are anti-community.
As far as I feel about my arrest since my release, I was and I am still personally livid.
When a PSNI uniformed sergeant asked me as I was leaving the police station how I was, I told him I couldn’t find the words to express how angry and affronted I was to have been arrested and held for such a terrible thing as Kevin’s murder.
I totally reject scurrilous allegations around my arrest and the suggestion that I would do anything to damage the Sinn Féin peace project or the Peace Process that we have worked so long and hard to build and advance.
It was something I should never have been arrested for.
Does your arrest affect your view of the Peace Process?
My commitment to the Peace Process remains and I will not be swayed from that by the actions of criminals or the actions of the PSNI.
I reject the attempts of the unionist parties to cynically use these murders or my unlawful detention to question or threaten the political institutions.
I’d like to make a few points about the media and the political fall-out from my detention.
My party and I have been subjected to trial by media. The presumption of innocence has again been set aside for political expediency.
The behaviour of the unionist parties in using my unjust detention to try and pull down the political institution is nothing short of a disgrace. They have succeeded only in holding the political process to ransom, and providing encouragement to ‘dissidents’ and those who murdered Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan.
Neither I nor Sinn Féin will allow criminals to win and I’m going to continue to play a constructive role in the weeks ahead in shoring up the Peace Process against the attacks by those who would drag us back to the past.
Your reaction after your release has been calm and considered. Will you be seeking an explanation from the PSNI Chief Constable for your arrest?
Well, as the Chair of the Six Counties Cúige of Sinn Féin, I have organisational and political responsibilities and I always want to give clear leadership on all matters, particularly at times like this.
I’m particularly conscious of this in this interview because I’m talking to An Phoblacht but I have been and I still am – on a personal and emotional level – infuriated and outraged by arrest.
My family, friends and comrades feel the same, and I have even had people who know me but who are not Sinn Féin supporters come up to me and say how angry they are at what is going on.
There was no basis for arresting me. At no time during my detention did the police present anything which, in my opinion or in the opinion of my solicitor, warranted my arrest.
Questions must be asked about the timing and nature of my wrongful arrest. The PSNI is now accountable for its actions and I and Sinn Féin will be raising all our concerns through the mechanisms set up to make the police accountable, mechanisms which Sinn Féin has worked hard to achieve.
I have also instructed my solicitor to look at taking legal proceedings against the Chief Constable.
What can you say about the almost 40 hours you were in custody?
My solicitor made several complaints about the length of interviews, time-wasting by detectives, and lack of evidence.
On occasions they questions me on stuff they’d taken from media reports! That was the basis for the police asking me questions!
When we asked them for any substance or intelligence to back up their lines of questioning, they retreated into ‘Police believe…’ or ‘Well, it is an opinion.’
Are you concerned that your arrest – as a steadfast supporter of the Peace Process – could be used by opponents to undermine the Peace Process?
What struck me on my release was the impact it has had on people who knew me and even on some people I didn’t know.
People who know me are well aware of my views of such murders and those who would carry out such acts. They were completely shaken by the fact that I could be arrested in this way.
As I said earlier, many people – including non-republicans – have stopped me to ask what was going on. Their opinions ranged from my arrest itself (given my views), the question of timing, and unionist infighting exploiting a man’s murder.
Of course these things will be used by opponents of the Peace Process (of all shades) but it’s our job to see that they don’t succeed.
Have you had a chance to catch up on what unionist politicians and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers have said about your arrest?
Most people can see that it’s unionist political infighting and rivalry between the UUP and DUP that has allowed brutal, criminal murders to be brought in from the streets to threaten the political process.
[Acting First Minister] Arlene Foster’s remarks about “rogue Sinn Féin or renegade SDLP ministers” taking decisions that will harm the community and DUP leader Peter Robinson’s comments about Sinn Féin representatives who have a democratic mandate the same as him have been shameful.
But whatever about all that, unionists have to come out of their regressive, retrograde mindsets and embrace equality and democracy. They have to recognise and accept the democratic mandates given to all elected representatives under the Good Friday Agreement.
I’ll be continuing to support the Peace Process and make it work.