Long: Questions need answered about ‘on the run’ letter scheme

Alliance MP Naomi Long has said serious questions need answered about who had knowledge and maintained oversight of the scheme which issued ‘comfort letters’ stating so-called ‘on the runs’ would not be prosecuted.

Mrs Long, speaking in the House of Commons today (Wednesday) said the collapse of Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey’s trial due to him being informed in 2007 that he was no longer a wanted man, had potentially grim consequences for justice and for power-sharing here.

The East Belfast MP said her party colleague, Justice Minister David Ford, had no knowledge of the 187 letters alleged IRA members received informing them they were not wanted in connection with any crimes.

“My thoughts and sympathies are with everyone who has suffered as a result of the Hyde Park bombing. They have suffered again as a result of this shabby and secretive side deal that was done without the knowledge Parliament and continued without the knowledge of the Assembly’s Justice Minister or the Policing Board.

“It cannot be in any way compared to the early release scheme in the Good Friday Agreement, which saw convicted prisoners released from their sentences early, as the people of Northern Ireland were able to vote on that. However, this deal was disrespectfully driven through behind the backs of everyone and against the wishes of Parliament.

“The Attorney General confirmed to this House that 38 such letters had gone out since the Conservatives have been in power, a period entirely after the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Assembly. Given that this scheme has profound implications for the work of many bodies, including the Historical Enquiries Team, the Policing Board and of course the Department of Justice, we deserve answers as to who administered this scheme and who negotiated behind the back of the Justice Minister so it could continue?”

Mrs Long added that the revelations shone a new light on the recent Haass negotiations on the past.

“The negotiations on dealing with the past saw the most agreement between the five parties but it is utterly shameful that neither Sinn Fein or the British Government, both of whom were aware of this deal, raised or discussed this matter with the other negotiators.

“Alliance went into the Haass talks in good faith but this has raised questions as in respect of others involved, who did not disclose full details of all of the processes already in place.

“Whilst this makes the need for a comprehensive deal on the past all the more critical, it simultaneously deals a massive blow to the prospects of such a deal being achieved.”


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