Long challenges Villiers over financial burden for scheme

Alliance MP Naomi Long has challenged the Secretary of State to justify placing the financial burden for reviewing the scheme in which so-called ‘on-the-runs’ were issued with ‘comfort letters’ on the Department of Justice (DOJ), only days after it was revealed the DOJ was facing a multi-million pound shortfall in its budget.

East Belfast MP Mrs Long was speaking after Theresa Villiers told the House of Commons today (Tuesday) that those in possession of the letters will still be prosecuted if found guilty of any crime.

The scheme came to light when the trial of Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey collapsed after it was revealed he was in possession of one of the letters. It was discovered around 200 republicans has also been issued with similar letters, informing them they were not wanted in connection with any crimes.

However, Mrs Long said Ms Villiers’ statement only raised further questions about why the Executive was encumbered with the financial responsibility for reviewing a scheme over which it never had accountability.

“While I thank the Secretary of State for her clear statement in which she reiterated this was never a devolved scheme to either the Northern Ireland Assembly in general or the DOJ in particular, it opens up the question of why the DOJ was transferred the burden for the review of the scheme.

“Last week, the Justice Minister revealed his Department will see at least a £47 million shortfall thanks to the ongoing welfare reform stalemate caused by arguing between the DUP and Sinn Fein. Now it will be facing further cuts thanks to the consequences of this scheme.

“I urge the Secretary of State to convene urgent talks with the Minister as soon as possible to ensure this matter is resolved in a much more equitable manner. If not, we are likely to see dire consequences for the PSNI, courts and in other important areas.”


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