Alliance Leader David Ford MLA has accused Government Ministers of running scared on the proposed legislation on fugitives offenders after Ministers refused to discuss the issue with him.
David Ford said: “It is clear that Government Ministers are themselves on the run from discussing the issue of paramilitary fugitives openly. They are frightened to engage in dialogue with democratic politicians, because they know that what they are doing is perverse.
“Ministers seem to be passing responsibility like a hot potato. I wrote to the Prime Minister in the summer about OTR legislation, and I got a letter back from the Secretary of State. At a meeting a month ago, Mr Hain said I should discuss Alliance concerns about Government plans with David Hanson, the Minister responsible. He said that this should happen before legislation was published.
“When I sought that meeting, Mr Hanson refused to discuss the issue. He is apparently prepared to listen to what Alliance has to say, but not to discuss Government plans, even though Mr Hain gave a commitment.
“Ministers are clearly running scared of the public reaction when their plans are announced.
“I have no intention of wasting my time speaking to a representative of a Government that is clearly itself on the run from democratic politicians and frightened to engage in dialogue.
“Instead, I will continue to concentrate on working with Liberal Democrat, Conservative and cross-bench members of the Commons and Lords to see how the Government’s proposals can be made more acceptable to law abiding citizens.
“Ministers must ensure that those exiled by paramilitaries are free to come home in safety. They must insist that those fugitives who want to benefit from the OTR scheme must appear in Court and acknowledge their crimes. If they do not, I believe that these perverse plans will not get Parliamentary approval.”
“If the Government thinks that it can help the process by passing controversial legislation at the behest of one political party, it will be sadly mistaken – yet again. Riding roughshod over the concerns of others will only add to the atmosphere of distrust, and slow down the process of building confidence for a restoration of devolution.
“It is vital that the Government is seen to respond to the legitimate views of the people of Northern Ireland. People can be pragmatic and appreciate that this issue needs to be addressed, but they don’t like giving blank cheques to terrorists.”