Belfast Telegraph

PM David Cameron: I'll not criticise rationale of royal pardons granted to paramilitaries

By Michael McHugh

The Prime Minister has said he does not want to unpick difficult decisions by previous Governments to grant royal pardons to paramilitaries here.

David Cameron said steps were taken by the last Government to get the peace process working.

"The last Government did have to make very difficult decisions to try to get the peace process started by John Major on track and working," he said.

"I don't want to unpick all of those difficult decisions, second-guess those difficult decisions."

Earlier Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers told the Commons the royal prerogative of mercy was used on 16 terrorism-related occasions to shorten sentences, not to cancel offences and not by her Government.

Mr Cameron acknowledged that there were still frustrations and issues to be settled in Northern Ireland, but added: "We have the basic architecture of devolution and parties working together across historic divides and I don't want to put that at risk."

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said the Prime Minister should intervene to ensure that the circumstances surrounding the pardons were revealed so people know the facts of the cases.

First Minister Peter Robinson has called for the royal pardons issue to be included in the judge-led inquiry into the on-the-runs controversy. Yesterday, he expressed disappointment after the Secretary of State said the inquiry report had been delayed, adding that the DUP will negotiate on the past until it is published.

But he added: "It is a positive signal that Lady Justice Hallett is taking the time necessary to examine all the necessary witnesses and consider all the relevant documentation."

The judge is reviewing an agreement between Sinn Fein and Labour that saw around 200 letters sent to republican fugitives, informing them that police were not actively seeking them – but not ruling out future prosecutions if new evidence became available.

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