06 October 2005

Pressure mounts against 'amnesty' plan for OTRs

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
06 October 2005

Pressure was increasing on the Government today to toughen up its proposals for dealing with IRA fugitives.

With the Conservatives already lining up opposition in the Lords, Alliance Party criticism has signalled that the Liberal Democrats could also stand against the proposals.

Legislation dealing with the fugitives - known as 'on the runs' or OTRs - is due to be introduced at Westminster later this month.

Under proposals published two years ago, the fugitives - including various Maze escapers, former MP Owen Carron and Sinn Fein's US representative Rita O'Hare - would be allowed back into Northern Ireland if they apply to a quasi-judicial process.

The crimes they are wanted for would be reviewed at a hearing, but they would not be required to appear.

Opponents say that it amounts to an amnesty.

Earlier this week, shadow Secretary of State David Lidington told a Tory party conference meeting that the Conservatives will oppose the measure as it stands.

While the Government still has a commanding majority in the House of Commons, the legislation could run into difficulty in the Lords.

Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers could combine with cross benchers to make passage of the legislation difficult.

Alliance leader David Ford told Secretary of State Peter Hain that his party opposes the current proposals during a meeting at Hillsborough Castle on Tuesday night.

"Our concern is that OTRs will be dealt with in a way that is not a general amnesty," said Mr Ford.

"But my impression is that what has been promised is an amnesty."

He said his party wants the Government to treat the OTRs the same as early release prisoners - making their freedom dependent on good behaviour.

"When you consider the pain that early release caused, allowing OTRs anything less than that is unacceptable.

He said Mr Hain has offered his party a meeting with Criminal Justice Minister David Hanson before the legislation is published.

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