Belfast Telegraph

OTR issue was never any secret

By Brian Rowan

Who knows, in a few weeks' time, where the controversial on-the-runs (OTRs) scheme will sit on the political agenda? Beyond the pending election, will it have a place at all?

What will the parlimentary shape be come May 8? And what will the priorities of the next Northern Ireland Affairs Committee be? The issue of the OTRs could well disappear as a two-report wonder.

And the wondering and thinking after the publication of the findings by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Tuesday is on how little emphasis there was on what was known and what should have been seen.

Take it as read that politicians did not know about the so-called "comfort letters". And also take it as read that they did not know there was a process known as the "administrative scheme".

But there is no excuse - absolutely no excuse - for not knowing that the OTRs' cases were being settled.

The periodic reporting of such - some of it in big, bold headlines, including in the Belfast Telegraph - must have been seen and had to be seen. They could not have missed it all.

So, let us not reduce the arguments about OTRs to the letters and scheme's description. Eibhlin Glenholmes did not just reappear in Belfast after years on the run.

That was achieved through a request for information to the Northern Ireland Office, a check with the prosecuting authorities and a response that she was no longer wanted. The scripts, the television footage and radio interviews are there as proof.

Years later, it was headline news when the Belfast republican was appointed to the Victims Forum.

Northern Ireland politics now has other priorities. Welfare reform has been mired in a swamp.

There is a process on the past to be taken from the paper proposals of the Stormont House Agreement and shaped and structured.

There are all the budget squeezes and the implications of those across departments. So, where does that leave the OTRs?

Within a police review that is unlikely to alter in any significant way what has already happened.

Brian Rowan is a writer and commentator on security issues

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