Belfast Telegraph

Name republicans who got royal pardons, PM is urged

By Richard Wheeler

David Cameron has been urged to publish a list of the republicans and Sinn Fein members who "begged, asked or received" royal pardons.

The Northern Ireland Office last night revealed that 16 republicans received royal pardons between 2000 and 2002.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told the House of Commons the information would show Northern Ireland's republicans who of their "great stalwart leaders" had received them.

Mr Dodds added it would also highlight which governments have been involved in "such nefarious activities", as he repeated criticism of the "disgraceful on-the-runs debacle".

The controversial Government scheme saw so-called letters of comfort issued to on-the-run (OTR) republicans, with questions raised about its lawfulness. The process saw almost 190 individuals obtain a document assuring them they could return to the UK without fear of arrest as, at the time of sending, there was insufficient evidence to prosecute them.

The issue came to light after Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey was held by police.

He walked free from court after it emerged he received a government letter telling him he was not wanted by any UK police force. He was one of about 200 paramilitary suspects who received the letters.

Peter Robinson threatened to resign over the revelations, but agreed to remain in his post after the Government agreed to set up a judge-led inquiry.

Speaking in the Commons yesterday, Mr Dodds told the Prime Minister: "Following the publication of the Northern Ireland select committee's report into the disgraceful on-the-runs debacle yesterday, it's now been revealed that the man who went about distributing these letters to IRA fugitives, Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein, has actually the Royal Prerogative of Mercy for certain crimes.

"Would you now list in the library of the House all those other Sinn Fein members and leading republicans who have likewise received a royal pardon, so that republicans in Northern Ireland can know which of their great stalwart leaders have either begged, asked or received - probably on bended knee - such a royal pardon.

"And secondly, so that everybody can know in the country which governments have been involved in such nefarious activities."

Mr Cameron said he would look carefully at Mr Dodds' question and what more the Government could do to be transparent.

He told Mr Dodds: "Governments in the past have had to make difficult decisions with respect to Northern Ireland to try to bring parties together and produce the peaceful outcome that we have today.

"That has involved difficult compromises and things that you and probably I have found, at times, deeply distasteful. But nonetheless, sometimes in the pursuit of peace some of these things have to be done."

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