Alliance Party Deputy Leader and Victims Spokesperson Eileen Bell MLA has warned the British and Irish Governments not to proceed with a flawed deal on paramilitary fugitives (‘On The Runs’) in exchange for Republican acts of completion.
Mrs Bell said that the issue could only be meaningfully resolved if people also forced from their homes or out of the country by paramilitary groups were free to return to Northern Ireland in safety.
Speaking in advance of September’s political talks, at which the issue of ‘On The Runs’ is to be discussed, Eileen Bell said:
“Paramilitary fugitives were not dealt with in the Agreement, so this is an issue that must be addressed in a manner consistent with the Agreement and the principles of justice.
“Under the early release scheme, prisoners faced the courts, received a conviction, and were placed on licence.
“While the two Governments have backtracked under political pressure from the outright amnesty that was on offer at Weston Park, the proposed scheme in the Joint Declaration for dealing with ‘On The Runs’ is flawed.
“Incredibly, there is no requirement for those wishing to avail of the proposed scheme to show their face in court. Realistically, the paramilitaries concerned may not serve any time, but their victims and families deserve the opportunity to see them in court, to account for what they did.
“While fugitives may be able to return home, others with a much greater right to live here are being denied that opportunity. These are the people who are forced from their homes on a daily basis by paramilitary groups and told not to return.
“The ‘Exiles’ issue is one of the biggest human rights abuses facing this society. While the Governments have acknowledged that there is an issue regarding exiles, they have yet to prioritise it in the talks.
“It would be an affront to natural justice for those associated with certain organisations to be able to return to Northern Ireland in safety while the same groups continue to deny that right to many others.
“The Governments made a mistake with the early release scheme through delivering while receiving nothing in exchange. They must avoid repeating this mistake with respect to the OTRs and the exiles.”