Conditional bail for man facing extradition over IRA car bomb deaths

A Co Donegal man who is is wanted by prosecutors in Northern Ireland over the 1972 murders of two soldiers has been granted conditional bail in a Dublin court ahead of a formal extradition hearing.

John Downey, 66, whose prosecution for the IRA’s Hyde Park bombing collapsed in controversy four years ago, is expected to walk out of Dublin High Court later on Thursday if information on 30,000 euro bail (£26,000) guarantees set by Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly is received.

Downey was detained in Co Donegal on Monday on a European Arrest Warrant.

The Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service initiated extradition proceedings after determining it had sufficient evidence to charge him with the murders of Lance Corporal Alfred Johnston, 32, and Private James Eames, 33, in a car bomb attack in Enniskillen.

Hyde Park bombing High Court claim
Hyde Park bombing High Court claim

An extradition hearing is due to take place next week.

In 2013, Downey was charged with murdering four Royal Household Cavalrymen in an IRA bomb in London’s Hyde Park in 1982.

He stood trial at the Old Bailey, but the case dramatically collapsed after it was revealed he had received a written assurance from former prime minister Tony Blair’s government that he was not actively wanted by the authorities.

Explaining the rationale for granting bail on Thursday morning, the judge highlighted that Downey had been on bail during court proceedings in England and had abided by all conditions.

Ms Justice Donnelly also noted Downey appeared to have some health issues, and had lived in the Irish Republic for more than 30 years.

“On a previous occasion, he faced charges in a court in England and was released on bail during these matters and abided by the conditions,” she said.

The Sinn Fein member, wearing a red jumper and checked shirt, remained impassive in court as his conditional bail was approved.

His defence barrister Tony McGillicuddy had earlier told the judge that Downey has had “a commitment of working in a positive manner in the Irish peace process since the early 1990s”, and had carried out functions in that regard with a number of agencies.

Mr McGillicuddy said that he engaged positively in meetings around the peace process and has a “strong commitment” to it over the last 20 years.

The two Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers died when an IRA bomb exploded in a car they were checking on Irvinestown Road, Cherrymount, Enniskillen, on August 25 1972.

Downey’s prosecution for the Hyde Park bombing collapsed when it emerged he had received a UK government letter issued under the terms of the controversial On The Runs (OTRs) scheme.

In 2014, trial judge Mr Justice Sweeney ruled that Downey’s arrest at Gatwick Airport, as he transited the UK on the way to a holiday, represented an abuse of process and he put a stay on any future prosecution in relation to the Hyde Park case.

The episode sparked a government inquiry into the OTR scheme.

Downey has always denied any involvement in the Hyde Park attack.