13 January 2006

Sinn Féin on attack over aborted bill

Daily Ireland

Party hits back over SDLP criticism

Eamonn Houston

Sinn Féin last night hit back at criticism from the SDLP and direct-rule secretary of state over the party’s stance on the now aborted Northern Ireland (Offences Bill).
SDLP leader Mark Durkan and Secretary of State Peter Hain both attacked republicans for withdrawing support for controversial legislation which would have allowed security force killers to escape the courts.
Both claimed that Sinn Féin had been aware of the full implications of the legislation.
“How on earth they thought security forces could be excluded, I don’t know,” Mr Hain said yesterday.
Mr Durkan accused republicans of making a u-turn on a “dirty deal”.
He accused Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams of attempting to suppress the truth over Sinn Féin involvement in the legislation.
Mr Durkan said: “It is dishonest for Gerry Adams to claim that the OTR legislation was a major breach of Weston Park in 2001. The fact is that Sinn Féin negotiated a much more detailed side deal with the British Government at Hillsborough in 2003.
“It covered not just paramilitary killings, but state murders too. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness know this. Martin McGuinness even defended that publicly.
“In fact, it was only after it was made clear by the British government that OTRs would have to appear publicly in court that Sinn Féin called for the Bill to be dropped. That - and the public pressure from victims of collusion who had been sold out - caused the Sinn Féin leadership to back down.”
However, Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney accused the SDLP leader of peddling lies on the issue.
Mr McCartney told Daily Ireland: “Since the British government placed their legislation dealing with OTRs before the British House of Commons Mark Durkan has deliberately engaged in a campaign of lies, half truths and innuendo aimed at attacking Sinn Féin and those we represent. Mark Durkan needs to catch himself on.
“He shamefully attempted to use the victims of British State violence to score cheap political points. Ignoring the fact that neither he nor his party ever stood up and challenged the British State on its murder of citizens throughout 30 years.
“Mark Durkan, for whatever reason, has never challenged the human rights abuses of the RUC yet felt qualified to use the victims of that organisation to try and advance his own political agenda.”
Mr McCartney said that the legislation proposed by the British government had been in “clear breach” of what had been agreed at negotiations at Weston Park.
“It was not the SDLP attempts at political point scoring which brought the British government to the point of withdrawing the Bill,” he said.
“It was pressure put on the British government by Sinn Féin, who made it clear to the British Secretary of State that republicans would not support these measures if the clauses relating to British State forces remained.”
“There are no British OTRs. The proposed legislation did not do what was agreed at Weston Park and therefore had to be withdrawn,” he said.
Mr Hain said yesterday that the on-the-runs legislation was an essential building block in negotiations which led to last July’s groundbreaking declaration from the IRA that it was ending its armed campaign.

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