Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Hallett's OTR report won't derail process

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

What emerges clearly from the review of the on-the-runs letters by Lady Justice Hallett is that it was a shabby deal struck between the government of the day and Sinn Fein to encourage the peace process.

And yesterday's report does nothing to impede the progress of that process, with both Sinn Fein and the DUP able to take some comfort from the judge's comments.

In that respect it was a masterful document. The judge concluded that the OTR deal was lawful and that there was no conspiracy of silence to keep it hidden, although it did seem to fly under the radar.

But it should be noted that this newspaper reported on several occasions on the bones of the deal and, as the judge remarked, there was no reason why politicians, police and others should not have picked up on the letters.

The biggest losers in all this, as ever, are the victims and survivors of terrorism who still feel they are being cheated of justice.

While the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has pledged to review cases where people were given letters in error and has restated the Government's view that none of the letters amounts to an amnesty, the relatives of those killed or injured by the IRA will continue to wonder if there is any political will to pursue suspects even if new evidence emerges.

If the will exists then the letters are not worth the paper they are written on.

While Lady Justice Hallett said that there were systemic failures in the OTR deal which evolved, the PSNI was directly blamed for the catastrophic mistake which allowed Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey to escape prosecution. He had mistakenly been given an OTR letter even though he was wanted by the Metropolitan Police. Two similar cases have since been identified.

The OTR controversy is yet another stumbling block on the way to finding a lasting solution to the legacy of the past.

There is little likelihood of the parties agreeing to a holistic approach to the problems of the past, flags and emblems if they merely concentrate on each contentious issue as it emerges.

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