13 January 2006

Sinn Féin trades blows with British Government over ‘on-the-runs’

Irish Examiner

13 January 2006
By Paul O’Brien and Dan McGinn

THE British Government and Sinn Féin spent yesterday attacking each other following the dramatic collapse of legislative proposals to deal with paramilitary fugitives, or “on-the-runs.”

Northern Secretary Peter Hain withdrew the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill from the Commons on Wednesday in the face of mounting opposition.

The bill was designed to ensure that those wanted for offences committed prior to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement would be free to return to the North if they wished.

The bill met fierce opposition in Belfast and Westminster from opposition parties, victims’ groups and human rights organisations.

Sinn Féin, which had sought such a bill for years, initially appeared to embrace the proposals.

However, it withdrew its support last month when it became clear that members of the British security forces would also have qualified.

Mr Hain later laid the blame for the debacle at the party’s door. “How on earth they thought security forces could be excluded, I don’t know.”

But Sinn Féin accused Mr Hain and his colleagues of wishing to hide the truth about British collusion in paramilitary crimes.

“Any objective examination of the British Government’s approach to date on this question will show its overriding concern has consistently been to hide the truth about its own role in the conflict,” said MLA Philip McGuigan.

Yet precisely the same accusations have been levelled at Sinn Féin. The SDLP has accused the party of wishing to cover up the full facts about IRA murders.

Meanwhile, the family of murdered Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane yesterday said suggestions it had influenced Sinn Féin’s stance were wide of the mark.

Mr Finucane was shot dead by members of the loyalist UDA/UFF at his home in 1989.

British security forces are believed to have colluded in the killing. Under the bill, those linked to the murder could have been granted amnesty.

But Mr Finucane’s son, Michael, also a solicitor, said yesterday: “There has certainly been no expression of support or opposition [to the bill]. My family have not taken a view on it.”

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