01 December 2005

We won't allow fugitives bill to be wrecked: Hain

Belfast Telegraph

By Noel McAdam
30 November 2005

The Government today warned it will not accept any "wrecking amendments" to its controversial legislation allowing paramilitary fugitives to return to Northern Ireland.

Secretary of State Peter Hain said, however, he anticipated "plenty of amendments" to the proposed scheme embracing people guilty of terrorist-related crimes committed before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Mr Hain told the Irish Times: "We won't accept any wrecking amendments. If there are strong cases put we will look at that constructively."

His comment came as Ulster Unionists vowed to use their influence in the House of Lords to consign what it called "this Sinn Fein-inspired sop to the dustbin".

Four parliamentary sessions have been set aside for the committee stage of the Northern Ireland Offences Bill next month, which UUP leader Sir Reg Empey said should be retitled the "offensive" Bill.

Amendments are being tabled for the stage but the legislation faces a tougher fight in the Lords early in the New Year.

Sir Reg said the "the knockout blow" could not be delivered in the Commons but there would be decisive action in Lords where Ulster Unionists have considerable influence.

"Currently, we are proactively engaged in establishing how best to arrange opposition to this Bill when it arrives there."

UUP Leader in the Lords, Lord Rogan, said: "Ulster Unionists are in a position to make a critical contribution. This Bill does not provide closure to victims, nor does it assist the political process. Grievously, it delivers quite the opposite effect."

The DUP, meanwhile, maintained its criticism of the UUP. Lagan Valley Assembly member Edwin Poots said: "All of the current concessions to republicans... can all be traced back directly to deals that the UUP were privy to and part of." He urged UUP Assemblyman Alan McFarland to admit his party had "in many instances, acquiesced in the delivery of these concessions."

But Mr McFarland accused Mr Poots of "a pathetic attempt to cover the DUP's own embarrassment at their own failure to keep their promises, and in particular their much vaunted and much broken pledge to stop the concessions, and put an end to 'push-over unionism'".

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