Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Stormont back from the brink - behind scenes pact 'slap in face to our politicians'

Editor Mike Gilson speaks to members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee during a visit to the Belfast Telegraph
Editor Mike Gilson speaks to members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee during a visit to the Belfast Telegraph

BEHIND-the-scenes deals struck with on-the-run terror suspects have been described as a slap in the face to Northern Ireland's political leaders.

The chairman of the Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Laurence Robertson, was scathing in his criticism of the handling of on-the-runs after it emerged 187 had been given effective amnesty.

During a visit to the offices of the Belfast Telegraph he said it was vital an inquiry be launched into the entire process with those responsible held to account.

"This is one of the most serious challenges that I can remember to the whole (devolution) process," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I don't see why the Assembly should fall because of it.

"We need to get to a position where never again can somebody in London undermine that entire process."

He said he knew nothing about the deals until the collapse of the case of John Downey, having been informed in 2006 that negotiations on the contentious issue had been parked. He said that decision was taken at the time as Sinn Fein had withdrawn its support over concerns it had regarding effective amnesty also being issued to police and Army personnel.

"From 2006 there was no mention of any other way of tackling this, any other system being put in place – as far as I knew it was the end of the story," said Mr Robertson, who was a shadow minister at the time.

"Who authorised this? It must have been the then Prime Minister (Tony Blair). I can't see the Secretary of State issuing it without having the full knowledge of the Prime Minister."

Of the 187 letters issued, 38 were done so post the devolution of justice powers to Northern Ireland in 2010.

Mr Robertson yesterday met Justice Minister David Ford to discuss the controversy.

Mr Roberston said he could understand why First Minister Peter Robinson had threatened to stand down from his position.

But he said he believed that would be the wrong move.

"I understand his anger but I would suggest he stay in his position for now, look at this deeper and see if we can call people to account. The trouble is if the Assembly collapses we could have all sorts of other issues which could distract from this.

"I want a full inquiry into this and it may be we go down that line. There's a lot of anger and in all parties."

Mr Robertson said any inquiry must get under way "in days and weeks, not months".

He added: "There can't be amnesty for anybody, be it a soldier, a police officer, a loyalist, republican – we're all people under the rule of law."

10 people believe to have received letters:

RITA O’HARE:

O’Hare is currently the General Secretary of Sinn Fein. She was arrested in Northern Ireland in 1972 for the attempted murder of British Army Warrant Officer Frazer Paton who was targeted in Belfast the previous year. O’Hare fled to Dublin while on bail. Following a three-year sentence for smuggling explosives to the IRA she was released in 1979.

LIAM AVERILL:

He escaped from the Maze while dressed as a woman in 1997. He had been serving life for shoting dead two Protestants in 1994. In 2000, while still on the run, he was awarded £5,000 by the European Court of Human Rights because he was not given a lawyer for 24 hours after his arrest.

CHARLES CAULFIELD:

Caulfield is said to be living in Monaghan.

He was named in the House of Commons by DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson as being wanted in connection with the Enniskillen Poppy Day bombing which killed 11 people in 1987.

EIBHLIN GLENHOLMES:

He once topped the ‘most wanted’ list for suspected terror offences. In the 1980s, Glenholmes was at the centre of a high-profile extradition battle. She was wanted in Britain in connection with offences including murder, attempted murder, firearms and explosives. She was released by an Irish court, which concluded the extradition warrants were defective.

Glenholmes, who was never convicted of a terrorist offence, spent years on the run.

DERMOT FINUCANE:

Finucane masterminded the 38-man mass breakout from the Maze in 1983 along with his brother, Seamus. Had been serving 18 years for explosives offences. He initially fled to the US with Artt. Later arrested in Ireland and successfully fought extradition attempts. Brother of Pat Finucane, a solicitor, murdered in 1989.

POL BRENNAN:

He also escaped from the Maze in 1983.

Had been serving a 16-year sentence for possessing explosives. He fled to America and created a new identity, working as a carpenter in San Francisco. While there, he married an American woman. He was deported to Ireland in 2009.

KEVIN BARRY ARTT:

He escaped from the Maze during a mass IRA breakout in 1983. He had been convicted of the murder of the prison’s deputy governor, Albert Miles, who was gunned down in front of his wife. He fled to the US and was caught by the FBI in 1992.

Artt escaped extradition after the US ruled his claims of unfair conviction in Northern Ireland must be investigated before sending him back.

JAMES MONAGHAN:

The former Sinn Fein national executive member was sentenced to six years in 1976 for possession of rocket launchers. He escaped during a huge explosion at Dublin’s Special Criminal Court. In 2001 he was detained in Colombia. It was claimed he had been sharing bomb-making intelligence with Farc geurillas. He was found guilty of travelling on a false passport but fled and cannot be returned to Colombia.

NESSAN QUINLIVAN:

Was awaiting trial over a suspected IRA assassination plot when he escaped from HMP Brixton in 1991. Using a gun hidden in a shoe, he shot a passer-by. He was arrested in the Republic for firearms offences in 1993 and jailed for four years. He was released early in 1996 and successfully fought attempts to extradite him in 2000, arguing he would have been freed by July 2001 under terms of Belfast Agreement.

OWEN CARRON:

He was an election agent for IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. Carron fled to the Republic after being caught in possession of an AK-47 rifle in 1986. He had been granted bail to contest a by-election in Fermanagh but fled when he lost. The Irish Supreme Court ruled he could not be extradited over a “political offence”. He went on to work as a builder and a teacher.

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