22 December 2005

Wanted man welcomes SF stand on OTRs

Daily Ireland

ZOE TUNNEY

A man forced to live in the Republic because he is wanted in the North for alleged IRA offences yesterday welcomed Sinn Féin’s decision to call for the controversial on-the-runs legislation to be scrapped.
Stiofain MacGibb spoke out as the controversy over the legislation continued yesterday with the a new war of words between Sinn Féin and the SDLP.
Mr MacGibb was arrested along with 48 others during a British army swoop of west Belfast in 1978.
Just days before his nineteenth birthday he went before court charged with membership of the IRA and possession of firearms.
“I was neither a member or had any weapons,” he said yesterday.
He was granted bail but fearful of the diplock court system and the terrorism legislation in the North, he went across the border to escape his inevitable fate at the hands of British justice.
He has been forced to live in the South for the past 27 years. In that time he missed the funerals of his parents and grandparents and has never returned to his Belfast home.
Last month, the British government presented new legislation which would allow on-the-runs to return to the North under certain conditions.
The controversial plans included special tribunal hearings where cases would be heard in front of a retired judge and no jury, have all normal powers although the fugitive would not have to appear.
If found guilty, the OTRs would be allowed to go free under a licence like those granted under the Good Friday Agreement.
When the OTR legislation was first announced, Mr MacGibb said he would never recognise a British court never mind go before one.
“It’s legitimising the British crown and admitting I did something wrong. I would have to live under licence,” he said.
“There are certain things republicans will simply never do.”
The most controversial element of the legislation which angered republicans most was attempts by the British government to include British army and RUC personnel accused of state collusion in the murder of nationalists in the amnesty.
Sinn Féin argues it had not agreed to the inclusion of security forces in the bill and on Tuesday the party dramatically called for the Northern Ireland (offences) Bill to be scrapped.
Mr MacGibb yesterday welcomed the move and defended Sinn Féin’s decision.
“It was a bad piece of legislation which was not negotiated properly,” he said.
“I believe it was negotiated in good faith but I also believe the British government tried to piggy back British soldiers, Special Branch and the RUC in through the back door.”
Sinn Féin’s Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness yesterday reiterated that his party want the legislation scrapped because it was not what they had agreed with the British government. He also hit back at the SDLP for their criticism of Sinn Féin over the on-the-runs issue.
SDLP South Belfast MP Alasdair McDonnell said that Sinn Féin’s “continued insistence’ that it did not agree to all aspects of the on-the-runs bill showed the party to be “deluded at best and devious at worst”.
“Sinn Fein’s credibility has already nose-dived thanks to its wheeling and dealing. By insisting that it agreed to the on the runs bill at Weston Park, the party is only succeeding in undermining itself further,” he said.
The Irish Labour Party last night claimed Sinn Fein’s U-turn on the proposed legislation let the Irish government off the hook.
Leader Pat Rabbitte said the decision by Sinn Fein to oppose the bill has allowed the government to drop its proposals for dealing with the problem.

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