The Alliance Party has written to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of
State advocating that a number of changes be made to the Joint Declaration
scheme for dealing with ‘On the Runs’.
David Ford commented:
The early release of politically-motivated prisoners was one of the most
difficult aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. It was a bitter pill,
swallowed by my party and many others in the interests of peace
“In the wake of the recent IRA statement, the Government is set to table
legislation to deal with the so-called ŒOn the Runs, this autumn. These
are Republicans who are suspected of serious acts of terrorism but have
never faced a court and those who have fled from prison. People are being
asked to accept that they be allowed to return freely to Northern Ireland.
“In the Weston Park package of July 2001, the British and Irish
Governments proposed an outright amnesty for the OTRs. By the Joint
Declaration, they had accepted that this matter had to be addressed
through a quasi-judicial process and that qualifying persons be placed on
licence. But this process still retains many flaws.
“Alliance believes that there are a number of changes that can and should
be made to the details of this formula to bring it more into line with
natural justice, and to stop the appearance of a continual sequence of
drip-feed concessions to Republicans.
“First, there should be a requirement that the Secretary of State
certify that the threats against those Œexiled, have been lifted by any
organisation wishing to avail of the OTR legislation for its members.
Several thousand people have been forced from their homes by
paramilitaries either for being suspected of involvement in crime or for
merely crossing the path of the paramilitary godfathers. It would be
perverse if some paramilitaries were able to return to their homes in
safety while those innocent people who have been forced out by
paramilitaries are not.
“Second, under the current proposed scheme, an OTR who wishes to return to
Northern Ireland would be required to apply first to an ‘Eligibility
Body’. Once authorised to return to Northern Ireland, their case will
then be heard before Special Judicial Tribunal that will conduct a trial,
and where a sentence is passed, the applicant will be immediately released
on licence. However, any qualifying OTR does not have to appear in court
to avail of the scheme. This ability for OTRs to avoid a court appearance
is a major weakness in the scheme. An appearance in court would give some
limited recognition of the offences committed, and may give some victims a
limited sense of justice.
“Third, the grounds for revoking a licence for early-release prisoners in
the Northern Ireland Sentences Act (1998) were set rather narrowly. Since
those days when a ceasefire was defined in very limited terms regarding
terrorist actions against the state and other side of the community, there
has been a long and hard battle for it to be commonly recognised that all
paramilitary activity constitutes a threat to democracy and the rule of
“Such commitments are supposedly at the heart of the recent IRA statement.
Surely, it makes sense therefore to link the licence terms of the OTRs to
no engagement in paramilitary or criminal activity either by the
individual concerned or their organisation.”
Notes for Editors:
The British and Irish Proposals in Relation to ‘On the Runs’ published
with the Joint Declaration (1 April 2003) can be found at: