Speaking during a backbench debate on the issue in the House of Commons today (Thursday), Alliance MP Mrs Long said the scheme, which came to light when John Downey had his trial over charges relating to the Hyde Park bombing halted last month due to his receipt of such a letter from the Northern Ireland Office, had been “incredibly damaging” to the public’s confidence in the peace process, the police, politicians and the justice system.
The East Belfast MP also said suggestions that the scheme was a natural progression of the Good Friday Agreement’s early prisoner release programme were “absolutely false”.
“This toxic side deal has underminedthe public’s confidence, damaged respect for the PSNI, who were asked by the Government to do this and did so, damaged the politicians involved and also tainted how people view the justice system.
“This is an issue that is serious for the whole of the UK, because it appears it has circumvented the will of Parliament and allowed some to evade due process under the law. It is one thing to be honest with victims that some may never receive justice due to the passage of time or a lack of evidence but it is another thing where people have the opportunity to pursue justice and it is denied to them.
“As painful as the early prisoner release scheme was, it was endorsed directly by the public via the Good Friday Agreement referendum. Likewise, other specific arrangements saw elected representatives directly approve a process on behalf of their constituents. However, this scheme was distinct because it was not done openly with the prior knowledge or consent of the public or Parliament. No amount of repetition will change the fact that this shabby side deal did not flow naturally from the Good Friday Agreement.
“It is crucial we now decide where we want to go because there are many victims still out there, who for reasons beyond our control may never receive justice. A comprehensive process is required that deals with the issues in a manner which ensures openness, integrity, truth and justice are placed at the core of our peace, rather than treated as commodities which can be traded. We need to refocus and move forward with new vigour to provide answers for those who are still hurting and restore confidence in justice and the rule of law.”