The decision to charge a leading republican with IRA membership was politically motivated, Sinn Féin claimed today.
The North’s largest nationalist party has organised a series of protests against the detention of Padraic Wilson (aged 53) who led IRA prisoners in the high-security Maze prison in the late 1990s.
He was remanded in custody on Friday after being charged with offences following the murder of Robert McCartney outside a Belfast bar in 2005.
He was accused of IRA membership and addressing a meeting to encourage support for the IRA, which he denies.
Sinn Féin North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly said: “This was not only a mistake, it was politically motivated. It will do damage to policing.”
Mr McCartney, 33, was stabbed to death outside Magennis’s bar in Belfast.
A detective told Belfast Magistrates’ Court on Friday that although Mr Wilson is not charged directly in connection with the murder of Mr McCartney, the charges relate to an internal investigation by the IRA following the murder.
He said six witness statements had been received from Mr McCartney’s sisters and former partner accusing Wilson of involvement in an IRA internal investigation following the murder of Mr McCartney.
Mr Kelly said today that Wilson had supported the peace process and criticised an “old guard” within the police which he said was opposing change within that organisation.
“Instead of dealing with the issue of the murder of Robert McCartney, seven years later we are now seeing that people who were trying to help are nevertheless being targeted,” he said.
He added: “He is a long-standing activist who was in charge of prisoners. He is very much crucial to the peace process, bringing people along the political process as it developed.
“This (detention) is politically motivated, they may as well put hundreds of people in jail.”
The Public Prosecution Service decides whether to take a criminal case after assessing evidence provided by the police. That assessment process continues up to and during any eventual trial.
Mr Kelly alleged that a small minority within the PSNI was fighting change which has been undergone by that organisation in tandem with the peace process. This has included recruiting more Catholics, a redundancy process for long-serving officers and a name change from the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Mr Kelly said Friday’s charges were not aimed at bringing the killers of Mr McCartney to justice.
The Sinn Fáin MLA and former prisoner confirmed there would be a protest against Wilson’s arrest today.
“He should be released, he should not be held in custody, they should re-look at this and realise that this is a bad mistake,” he said.
“It is anti-civic policing, it is political in its nature and whoever is making these type of decisions is wrongfully in the PSNI.”
In 2008, Terence Davison (aged 51) was acquitted of Mr McCartney’s murder and two other men were cleared of charges connected to the killing.
A spokesman for the PSNI declined to comment on Mr Kelly’s accusations.