12 January 2006

Hain attacks SF over on-the-run bill


12/01/2006 - 09:01:37

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain lambasted Sinn Féin today after the dramatic collapse of a controversial Bill for dealing with people who carried out terrorist offences during the Troubles.

The British government withdrew the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill from the House of Commons yesterday after Sinn Féin urged Republicans not to take advantage of it when it became clear that members of the British Army and police involved in murders would also have qualified.

Mr Hain said: “When it became evident that Sinn Féin, which had asked for this legislation in respect of on-the-runs, had instructed the on-the-runs not to use it because it included and applied to the security forces, what was the purpose of proceeding with legislation designed to achieve an objective for which the people were not going to insert themselves?

“How on earth they thought security forces could be excluded, I don’t know.”

The British government had envisaged paramilitary suspects and rogue members of the security forces applying under the Bill to a certification commissioner to ensure they would never have to serve a day in jail for any offence they committed before the April 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The Certification Commissioner would have referred applications to the police to see if people were wanted for crimes and if they were, would have issued them with a guarantee that they would not be arrested in the North.

The legislation also envisaged setting up a special tribunal outside the judiciary with its own judges and prosecutors which would consider the case against those applying under the scheme.

Applicants would not have been compelled to attend the hearing in person.

If they were found guilty, they would have been issued with a licence guaranteeing that they would never go behind bars for the offence they committed.

The Bill met fierce opposition in Belfast and Westminster from victims’ groups, human rights organisations and all political parties outside the British government.

The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Democratic Unionists, nationalist SDLP, Ulster Unionists and cross-community Alliance Party vigorously opposed the legislation.

It was Sinn Féin’s decision last month to withdraw support for the Bill after initially appearing to embrace it which proved critical

The party’s decision came after it was accused by the rival SDLP of striking a dirty deal with the Government to cover up the full facts about IRA and security force murders.

Following the decision to kill the Bill, the British government has insisted that the issue will have to be revisited in the future.

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