The reported surrender at Strabane police station of a man alleged to have been involved in a lethal shooting at a boxing weigh-in in Dublin last month has been cited in the Northern Ireland Brexit debate.
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson DUP claimed the man, who allegedly turned up in Strabane asking police to take him in after the murderous hit on David Byrne in the Regency Hotel in Drumcondra, was let go by police because they didn’t have a warrant for his detention.
Mr Robinson suggested this undermined arguments that Northern Ireland will be negatively affected if access to the European arrest warrant system is closed post-Brexit.
He mentioned the case as Justice Minister David Ford briefed the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee (NIAC) on the potential implications of the EU referendum from his Department’s perspective.
“You will have been aware of some press articles two weekends ago about an individual thought to be responsible for the shooting in Dublin at the boxing weigh-in having handed himself in to Strabane PSNI station for protection but then was told they could no longer hold him because there was no arrest warrant in place,” said Mr Robinson.
“Without inviting you to comment on the individual’s circumstances, was there a problem there with the European arrest warrant system? Is it lengthy but just less lengthy than the process that existed previously? Can you offer any helpful suggestions as to why that would be the case if somebody who is thought to have been involved in a murder and puts himself in a police station, is released because there is no warrant to hold him?” he asked.
Mr Ford replied: “The simple answer is I am not sure I could say anything helpful on that without being in serious danger of talking about that individual case, which you have invited me not to.”
He added: “Clearly any of these process do take a degree of time but the precise circumstances in which an individual may hand himself in, while unexpected as opposed to a belief that he might be in the other jurisdiction and therefore a warrant being issued, are very different.”
Mr Ford went on to say that access to the European arrest warrant had made things much easier given the United Kingdom’s difficult relationship with the Republic of Ireland in terms of extradition over many years.
“In particular the European arrest warrant is now extremely significant in ensuring that bringing criminals across the border to face trial is almost as easy as it would be to bring somebody from Edinburgh or London to Belfast,” he said.
“I am old enough to remember when that was a particularly toxic issue, when it was all but impossible to get extradition. We then made some measures with Irish legislation but that has now been entirely superseded by the European arrest warrant arrangements and the old Irish legislation has lapsed. I believe that we were in danger of losing that as part of the justice and home affairs opt-out last year.
“I believe there would be massive dangers to that particular aspect of north-south co-operation, as well as the whole issue of what would happen in the context of the border, how there would be potential co-operation on matters like immigration in the context of Brexit. I believe those kinds of issues need to be considered alongside the more dominant European issues about the economy, which is where most of the focus has been so far,” Mr Ford told the Committee.
He later added: “I have heard recently comments passed from the US suggesting we would not easily get treaties there. But if you start talking about maintaining the European arrest warrant having left the EU you simply do not get the way the politics is currently operating at Leinster House.”