Alliance Party leader David Ford has accused the Government of coming down against the rule of law in Northern Ireland, as it announced legislation to deal with paramilitary fugitives.
After a briefing with the minister responsible, David Hanson, Mr Ford stated: “In drawing up this grotesque legislation, the Government has completely failed to listen to the law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland on this issue. This is a direct follow-on from a side deal struck between the Prime Minister and Sinn Féin four years ago, completely ignoring the other interested parties, not least the victims.
“This legislation comes even though the IMC has made clear that the exiling of innocent people by paramilitaries is still ongoing. As such, the Government is putting the rights of those guilty of heinous offences ahead of those of innocent victims of paramilitarism.
“The Government also claims that the ‘Special Tribunals’ which allow fugitives to walk free following conviction will be exactly the same as a Crown Court. But this misses the crucial point that the beneficiary will not have to appear before the court in person. Victims of their crimes will not even get the chance to see the perpetrator admit to them.
“It is also clear that beneficiaries will be released on precisely the same licensing arrangements as convicted prisoners. Logic demands that they should go through the same court process.
“The Government is spitting in the face of law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland. The Minister claims this is a difficult issue, but it is not a difficult issue at all. The Government has a simple choice: is it prepared to come down on the side of the rule of law? It is quite clear from this perverse legislation that it is not.”
NOTE TO EDITORS
The Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill was published today [Wednesday 9th]