Belfast Telegraph

Fugitive O'Hare was key figure in OTRs process, Mandelson tells inquiry

By David Young

Lord Mandelson has told MPs that the issue of on-the-runs centred around one individual when he was Secretary of State - Rita O'Hare.

The Labour peer was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee inquiry into a scheme formulated by the last Labour Government at the request of Sinn Fein that saw about 200 letters sent to so-called on-the-runs (OTRs) assuring them they were not being actively pursued by the UK authorities.

The probe was triggered by the high-profile case of John Downey, who walked free from the Old Bailey earlier this year when his prosecution for the murders of four soldiers in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bomb was halted by a judge when it emerged he had been sent one of the letters in error.

Lord Mandelson was not Northern Ireland Secretary when the mistakes around the Downey case were made, but he was in office when the process effectively started operating in 2000.

He told the committee that, for him, the issue of on-the- runs started the day he was appointed Secretary of State in 1999 and mainly concerned Sinn Féin's Rita O'Hare.

Ms O'Hare, Sinn Fein's representative to the United States, is one of the most high-profile fugitive republicans, having skipped bail to the Irish Republic in 1972 after her arrest in connection with the attempted murder of a soldier.

Lord Mandelson told the committee: "Mo Mowlam (his predecessor), as we exchanged roles, marked my card very strongly on this saying that in her view it was essential that a solution be found for Rita O'Hare.

"It eventually became impossible to extract this individual's case from the wider issue and treatment of OTRs.

"Then, during the year 2000, a list of OTRs who Sinn Féin wanted a solution for was supplied to me by Number 10 and I think this list subsequently grew during the year."

The peer said in his time the way letters were sent was more of a "sketchy process" rather than the more substantive administrative scheme it developed into in later years.

Co Donegal man Downey (62), who denied involvement in the bombing, was wrongly issued with a letter because officials in the Northern Ireland Office were not told by police in Northern Ireland that he was being actively sought by the Met for the Hyde Park outrage.

The Old Bailey judge put a stay on his prosecution as he deemed his arrest at Gatwick Airport in 2013 constituted an abuse of process.

Household Cavalry Lieutenant Anthony 'Denis' Daly (23) died in the explosion in Hyde Park on July 20, 1982 alongside Trooper Simon Tipper (19), Lance Corporal Jeffrey Young (19), and 36-year-old Squadron Quartermaster Corporal Roy Bright.

 

A police review of the evidence against fugitive republicans who received Government letters of assurance could take three times longer than planned due to budget cuts, a commander has told MPs. PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris expressed frustration at the delay as he predicted prosecutions could still ultimately be taken against some of those in possession of the controversial documents.

The PSNI undertook to re-examine 228 individuals who applied for the letters, which stated they were not being actively sought by the UK authorities.

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