East Belfast MP Mrs Long was speaking after the publication of the Hallett Review, which catalogued a series of blunders by top civil servants in relation to the operation of the scheme, which came to light after the trial of alleged Hyde Park bomber John Downey was halted when it emerged he was wrongly sent a ‘letter of assurance’ informing him authorities were not looking for him.
Today’s report categorically states the scheme did not provide ‘a get out of jail free card’ for suspected terrorists, nor was it operated in secret, though was treated as ‘sensitive’ and not having its details ‘widely publicised’.
However, the document goes on to discuss ‘systematic failings’ in the scheme’s operation, blasting the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) for not introducing proper structures, which it says might have recognised and rectified mistakes made in relation to the Downey case.
In addition, the report criticises the PSNI on a number of issues, saying concerns by officers were not investigated by senior management and the failure to do so was not satisfactorily explained.
Mrs Long said the mistakes made, added to the current lack of a way forward on dealing with Northern Ireland’s past meant victims were continuing to suffer the consequences of the Troubles.
“The report talks of ‘ample scope for misunderstanding’ thanks to the shambolic way the scheme was created and administered by NIO ministers. Tethered to the other revelations contained in it, it is clear the thoughts and feelings of those who suffered most were not to the forefront in the minds of those behind this scheme.
“It also states the lack of openness around it caused distress to victims of terrorism, something which has been clearly stated by victims in their evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee. Lady Justice Hallett further says no victims’ groups or representatives she spoke to were aware of the scheme or the existence of letters, nor was information about it volunteered to other parties bar Sinn Fein.
“It is crucial victims are at the centre of any process dealing with the past. Without resolving their issues with openness and integrity, our society cannot hope to make progress in other areas such as the economy and education.
“I would urge those discussed in the report to take onboard and act upon the recommendations made in it, and for those who recently walked out on all-party talks to return, so we can reach a place where schemes like this and the culture of covert side-deals which it typifies, will never happen again.”