Ministers 'may have misled Commons' over IRA on-the-runs scheme
Ministers may have misled parliament over a scheme in which secret letters were sent to IRA fugitives telling them they were not wanted for Troubles crimes, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said.
Mr Dodds said ministers may have made a number of misleading Commons statements about messages sent to around 200 IRA "on-the-runs" informing them that they were not wanted by police. The Government insists the messages do not constitute immunity from prosecution.
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) scheme emerged during the collapse of the trial of alleged Hyde Park bomber John Downey after police mistakenly sent him one of the letters even though he was sought by the Metropolitan Police.
Mr Dodds called for the Commons record to be corrected if necessary and was told by Speaker John Bercow that it would be the NIO's responsibility to do so if it judged it appropriate.
Raising a point of order in the Commons, Mr Dodds said: "I don't know whether this will be categorised as juicy or not but it certainly will be juicy back home in Northern Ireland and it is the issue of the revelations of an administrative scheme [for] on-the-run people in Northern Ireland.
"This has come as a bolt out of the blue to people in Northern Ireland and indeed to this House.
"Careful perusal and examination of the parliamentary record going back over a number of years indicates that there were occasions when this House may have been misled by ministerial statement, whether oral or written, and I would ask you to advise the House as to what can be done now that there can be a thorough examination of how this matter was handled by ministers in their public utterances in this House and what action can be taken now to correct the record and put the facts before the House and have this matter thoroughly aired?"
Mr Bercow replied: "My initial response is that it is open to the Northern Ireland Office which will be privy to all of the material to correct the record if it judges that that is necessary."
Stormont was thrown into crisis by the Downey revelations last Tuesday. The 62-year-old from Co Donegal had pleaded not guilty to the car bomb murder of four soldiers from the Household Cavalry who died in the 1982 blast, along with seven of their horses.
But he walked free after a judge stopped the case because a letter had been sent from the Government before his arrest saying he was not wanted by the police.
The revelation that many others received similar letters prompted outrage from victims of terrorism who branded them "get out of jail free" cards.
First Minister Peter Robinson withdrew his threat to resign after Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a judge-led inquiry.