30 November 2005


Irish American Information Service

11/28/05 08:56 EST

The Irish Government must press ahead with granting presidential pardons to paramilitary fugitives, Irish premier Bertie Ahern said today.

The mechanism to grant amnesties to the so called on-the-runs (OTRs) has been criticised by Opposition parties as being constitutionally dubious and hurtful to victims of unsolved crimes.

But Mr Ahern said the issue of pardons for OTRs had been in the pipeline since 2001 and had to be resolved to continue momentum in the North's peace process.

Speaking after meeting British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the EU Mediterranean summit in Barcelona, Mr Ahern said the British government was very determined to pass controversial legislation on the issue and he would also press ahead.

"This was an arrangement that was made four-and-a-half-years ago exactly. It was very publicly announced at that time. What was agreed at that time is now going through the legislative process so Mr Blair is going ahead with that."

Mr Ahern said that only a handful of people were likely to qualify for pardons under the Irish mechanism to deal with the issue.

"This is business that has to be completed," he said. Under the Government's plans, an Eligibility Board will receive and vet applications before passing them onto the Justice Department for consideration.

The Cabinet will then study candidates before finally referring them to President McAleese to grant the pardons.

Mr Ahern said the OTRs issue was negotiated under the Weston Park Agreement and Joint Declaration and refused to accept comments by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny that the mechanism was inappropriate, constitutionally dubious and hurtful to victims.

"This was an upfront agreement in 2001 to deal with what arose out of the 1998 position. The legal basis used was based on the Attorney General's advice. This is an issue that has to be dealt with and completed. We allowed out all of the prisoners in 1998 so we're now talking about people who were never caught and probably a lot of them would never return home. To get completion, these particular cases have to be dealt with," he said.

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