11 January 2006

Govt urged to follow suit as Britain drops 'On The Run' bill


11/01/2006 - 16:07:03

There is an onus on the Government to drop contentious plans for an amnesty for on-the-run paramilitary killers after a similar move was dramatically scrapped in the UK, it was claimed today.

With Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain doing a complete u-turn on the granting of immunity to fugitive terrorists, Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte insisted Ireland should follow suit.

“The onus is now on the Irish Government to abandon its own ad-hoc proposals to grant presidential pardons to on-the-runs,” he said.

The Department of Justice confirmed the OTR amnesty had been suspended, but no decision has been made to follow the UK’s move to scrap the plan.

But Mr Rabbitte went on: “The Labour Party consistently opposed this plan and tabled a joint motion with Fine Gael calling on the Government to drop the proposals and for truth and justice to be returned to the entire process.

“The British and Irish governments must now engage with all political parties in the north as to the best way to deal with this issue. The rights of victims and their families must be to the fore, rather than the selfish interests of Governments and particular parties who want to cover up their crimes of the past.”

The OTR legislation would have involved offering paramilitaries who had escaped the rigours of the law freedom from jail without ever having to admit their guilt.

In the UK police and soldiers involved in collusion killings would also have had the threat of jail lifted, a move which proved too distasteful for Sinn Féin.

But plans to bring in the immunity rules here are now on hold.

In a statement the Department of Justice said: “When the UK legislation on ‘on-the-runs’ was published last November proposals for dealing with the handful of cases that might arise in this jurisdiction were announced.

“It was indicated that such a scheme would operate in tandem with the operation of the provisions in the UK.

“The withdrawal of the UK legislation means that the proposals for dealing with the matter in this jurisdiction are in abeyance pending the issue being revisited in both jurisdictions.”

Mr Rabbitte claimed the British Government had been forced into an embarrassing about turn after effectively promising an amnesty to killers responsible for 1,800 unsolved murders during the Troubles.

And he added that the British government had no option but to abandon the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill following outright opposition from all parties in the north, including Sinn Féin.

Northern Secretary Peter Hain told the House of Commons Sinn Féin’s decision late last month to oppose the Bill, because security force personnel could also qualify for the scheme, rendered the legislation meaningless.

It had been hoped the controversial amnesty would work on both sides of the Irish Sea, with an official body in Ireland, the Eligibility Board, recommending presidential pardons for fugitives.

The Government has always insisted it would only result in a handful of terrorists walking the streets even though they included some of the most notorious suspected terrorists.

One was believed to be the third man in an IRA unit which blew up the Queen’s cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten in Mullaghmore in 1979, also killing two teenage boys.

Others included the killers of a garda and a soldier during an attempted swoop on an IRA team holding a businessman hostage in forests in Leitrim in 1983.

But it is understood the amnesty was never intended to cover two men wanted in connection with the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.

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