Belfast Telegraph

On-the-runs: Clues and hints were there, but no one was looking

By Brian Rowan

There are no surprises in this report. And there is an emphasis on what we didn't know - and on what was not disclosed. For instance, until the Downey case emerged, there was no public knowledge that the on-the-runs had been issued with "comfort letters".

The early release of some hundreds of prisoners as part of what emerged from the Good Friday Agreement is addressed in the report. It was controversial, but it happened publicly and people knew the detail.

And, the committee makes clear, there was no such openness or transparency when it came to the scheme for addressing the issue of republican suspects on the run.

The committee has not seen the lists of the 200-plus names that were considered as part of the scheme. Nor is the committee convinced that the scheme was vital in terms of protecting the peace process.

They have not bought Tony Blair's line and explanation and justification for the process.

And they believe had the scheme been devolved with policing and justice powers in 2010, then at that time it would have been halted.

But there is not the same emphasis on what was known - on the reports that described significant developments in relation to the changing status of some on-the-runs. Some of those reports date back to 2000, 2001 and 2002 - including the high-profile cases of Eibhlin Glenholmes, who later became a member of the Victims Forum, and Liam Averill who escaped from the Maze Prison dressed as a woman. These reports passed and no one blinked an eye.

This newspaper produced big headline news in 2007, 2010 and 2012, with details on how the OTR cases were being settled, documentation relating to Royal Pardons, and then the appointment of Glenholmes to the Victims Forum.

There was a big opportunity then for some political interrogation of what was happening.

So, the committee is right that the detail of comfort letter was not reported, that full details were not released.But there were big hints, big jigsaw pieces at different times, but this issue never had the same political attention as, say, decommissioning or support for policing and justice, or standing down the IRA structure.

At times, it was there for all to see, but apparently no one was looking.

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