IRA letters: Unionists were fully briefed about OTRs at Policing Board meetings: Bradley
ON the run terror suspects were discussed at Policing Board level on at least two occasions – but the DUP has vehemently denied any details of secret deals struck were ever revealed.
A probe has been launched into how much the Policing Board knew of so-called waivers given to on-the-runs – with former members claiming all parties, including the DUP, had been informed.
The contentious issue of on-the-runs was discussed on at least two occasions by board members, most notably in 2010. Three DUP MLAs were present at the public meeting of the body in April of that year, during which on-the-runs were opening discussed.
However, there is no evidence members were told of the issuing of letters to terror suspects.
One of the DUP representatives, Tom Buchanan, questioned Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris about on-the-runs in Northern Ireland and what power the PSNI had to arrest them.
Mr Harris replied: "There is an ongoing process to resolve those individuals who mostly refer to themselves as on-the-runs.
"There are a number of different methods of being identified as being on-the-run, mostly through names submitted, either by political parties or the governments to ourselves." The senior police officer was not pressed regarding what specific processes had and were being carried out.
DUP MLA Peter Weir yesterday denied the briefing had brought the issue of the systematic handling of on-the-runs into the public domain years before Tuesday's revelations of effective amnesty being issued to republican terror suspects.
He also denied the allegation his party had not pressed police hard enough on the issue of on-the-runs. "Questions were asked around whether the on-the-runs could be arrested," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"There was no mention of any process clearing anybody, there was no mention of any letters or any administrative process in that regard. There was clearly stuff the police knew which the rest of us didn't."
Unionist claims they had no idea about waivers to terror suspects was again challenged yesterday. Denis Bradley, a former vice-chairman of the Policing Board, said briefings were given to all political parties when he was on the body, other than Sinn Fein.
He said members were briefed ahead of the inception of Operation Rapid in 2007.
"When I was vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the police came in and gave us a detailed briefing of the scheme," he said.
"The Policing Board, at that stage, was the only institution up and running. The Executive wasn't in being, it was suspended and didn't come into being until a couple of years later.
"But the police were upfront and open and all of the political parties in Northern Ireland, barring Sinn Fein who weren't on the board at that time, would have been aware of the scheme."
A statement issued on behalf of the Policing Board yesterday read: "A review has been initiated to establish what information was made available to the Policing Board."
Former SDLP Policing Board member Alex Attwood said there was "a muddle" over what the board knew. He, too, was present at the April 2010 meeting.
Mr Harris also told members at that meeting: "There is then an investigation which follows into the individual and the crimes that he may have been involved in, and then this is subsequently reported to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), where test for prosecution is met.
"We have been working through this process over the last number of years and it continues still to be available.
"So, in effect, as we become aware of a name in a particular incident, we carry out a cold case review and an investigation, and report that to the PPS to see then if the test for prosecution is met or any other work that may be done.
"The powers of arrest will exist for the original offences and there can also be bench warrants applied to through the courts if needs be, or if it is in relation to offences in respect of breaking out of a prison, the Prison Act also applies in respect of returning people to prison.
"At this moment in time, there are no on-the-runs we are aware of residing in Northern Ireland."