Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Stormont MLAs vote to express their 'disgust over secret on-the-runs agreement'

Relatives of victims comfort each other at Stormont
Relatives of victims comfort each other at Stormont

An emergency session of the Assembly has voiced "disgust" over the secret deal between the British Government and republican on-the-runs.

Only Sinn Fein voted against the DUP motion which also attacked the "gross injustice" to victims – and the body blow to public confidence in the rule of law.

The result was 58 votes to 27 – with the SDLP and new unionist party NI21 abstaining.

The DUP, UUP and Alliance said there was grave concern over the detail in the judgment of Mr Justice Sweeney in the collapsed case against John Downey, who denies killing four soldiers in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing.

No amendments were allowed to the motion, also supported by Jim Allister and Ukip's David McNarry, which also warned the ongoing inter-party meetings discussing the Haass proposals on dealing with the past, as well as flags and parades, have been undermined.

It is now unclear whether the weekly sessions will continue next Tuesday, with the Ulster Unionists already signalling they are unlikely to attend.

The 140-minute meeting at Stormont yesterday saw the two main power-sharing parties again at loggerheads over the fallout from this week's court judgment which led to First Minister Peter Robinson threatening to resign.

The DUP directed more venom against their rival Jim Allister than at Sinn Fein, with shouting and barracking at one stage almost rendering the Traditional Unionist Voice leader inaudible.

Executive Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said she would take no lectures from Mr Allister, who had done nothing to hold the IRA to account.

"At least I didn't put them into Government," Mr Allister retorted.

As Health Minister Edwin Poots accused the Government of a "grievous breach of trust" but refused to give way to a question from Mr Allister, he shouted "what a fine mess".

The party's Sammy Wilson also rejected Mr Allister's repeated depiction of the DUP leader as "climbdown Peter" and said the Government had walked over the democratic institutions of Northern Ireland, but also kept the House of Commons in the dark.

Opening the debate, First Minister Peter Robinson said: "The inquiry must satisfy the public that never again will any individual be able to use such a letter as a get out of jail card.

"The outcome of the inquiry must be to ensure that nobody can ever again evade questioning, prosecution or justice because they hold such a letter.

"Furthermore, we need a clear explanation why devolved ministers were kept in the dark about a process that was still ongoing – and, as we heard today, is still ongoing, even today – after policing and justice powers had been devolved to this Assembly."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called the DUP motion "irresponsible" and said it had more to do with posturing and the upcoming local government and European elections and "people out there" deserve better.

"I am frustrated that those on the extreme loyalist fringe are able to shape the behaviour of the two main unionist parties by using these issues at a time of crisis in our A&E services and when our most vulnerable are under threat from proposed Tory welfare cuts."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt argued: "This inquiry, we fear, is unlikely to cut it (and) if there is more, if there have been more dirty deals, tell us now because we took risks for peace.

"We are here for 1.8 million people, not 200.

"Sinn Fein is going to risk the whole thing for 200 people. We do not even know who they are."

The SDLP's Alban Maginness said: "Here was an act of monumental collusion between the British Government and Sinn Fein. Their secret postal service was a specially devised system to, as it were, bring relief to their IRA members."

But Alliance Party leader and Justice Minister David Ford said: "Whatever our differences this afternoon, we have to see whether we can build something different and a different, shared future for all our people. "

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