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Tony Blair on the run from Commons inquiry, claims Paisley

By Joanne Sweeney

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley has accused former Prime Minister Tony Blair of "being on the run" from giving evidence on the so-called comfort letters given to IRA suspects while he was in power.

Mr Paisley was one of three members of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee who are critical of the former Labour leader for not appearing before them to tell them what he knows about the controversial letters of assurance given to on-the-run suspects.

Mr Blair has been unavailable so far to appear before the parliamentary investigation. However, Mr Paisley said last night: "It seems like Mr Blair is on the run from appearing in front of the committee but given the publicity I am confident that he will soon appear before us."

Alliance MP and committee member Naomi Long also criticised Mr Blair for being "disrespectful and discourteous" to the all-party committee and said that the committee needed to make its report in the early weeks of January.

The East Belfast MP said: "I find it hard to believe that even the busiest person cannot spare an hour and a half to give evidence to a committee of parliament". Fellow committee member Lady Hermon added: "All victims of IRA violence are entitled to have a full explanation for the secret OTR letters from the man who now certainly appears to have been the main architect behind them."

Mr Blair said last month that because of commitments in the Middle East it would be "challenging" for him to give evidence in person.

However, the committee has recently offered him a chance to appear by video-link from anywhere in the world.

A spokeswoman for Mr Blair has said that he will respond shortly to the committee's offer.

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