Ford steps up pressure on Blair over exiles

Assembly to debate Alliance motion on paramilitary exiles and terrorists ‘on the run’. Alliance Leader David Ford has said that Tony Blair must put words into action, following his comments concerning paramilitary exiles in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Mr Ford was speaking following the Northern Ireland Select Committee’s debate on ‘Relocation Following Paramilitary Intimidation’ in Westminster Hall on Thursday.

Mr Ford added that the Assembly is preparing to debate an Alliance motion on Tuesday urging paramilitaries to lift the threat on those exiled from Northern Ireland by both loyalist and republican terrorists.

The South Antrim MLA said it was unacceptable that the Government was preparing to grant an amnesty for paramilitaries ‘on the run’ while doing practically nothing politically to have the threat on exiles lifted.

Mr Ford said: “When I spoke to the Prime Minister last month, Mr Blair promised action, and I am pleased he has raised the issue so prominently in the Commons. But while asking Sinn Fein and others to listen to today’s debate is all very well, words mean nothing unless accompanied by action.

“In a letter I received last week, the Government was unprepared to state what stage the proposed amnesty for terrorists on the run is at. I find it completely unacceptable that while the Government is working behind the scenes to bring people on the run back into Northern Ireland, very little has been done to secure the lifting of the death threat hanging over exiles’ heads.”

“There is something grossly unfair about that. Between 700 and 900 people* were forced from Northern Ireland by paramilitaries in 2001 – a 50 percent increase on 2000. It is time those parties which claim to stand up for human rights started to live up to their word.”

Mr Ford said public opinion was behind her position, with people wanting to see greater fairness in the political process.

“That is why I believe the Assembly must back our motion. If we are ever to truly have a just society, then it must be justice for all.”

The Alliance motion also states that, following the lifting of the threat on exiles, the minimum requirement for terrorists ‘on the run’ taking advantage of any proposed amnesty should be an admission of any offences committed, followed by release on licence.

Notes to Editors:

Tuesday’s motion reads:

That this Assembly considers that the Government’s proposal for dealing with those ‘on the run’ constitutes a general amnesty for offences committed prior to April 1998, goes well beyond both the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and is inconsistent with both justice and international practice. This Assembly believes that the minimum requirement consistent with the Agreement is that those wishing to avail of this measure should be required to acknowledge their guilt in court and be released on licence. This Assembly further believes that the Government should demand guarantees that those ‘exiled’ by the paramilitaries can return to Northern Ireland in safety before proceeding with this measure.


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