Belfast Telegraph

Politicians missed the OTRs' bus

By Brian Rowan

The first question from the floor did not come as any surprise. It was Monday evening in Enniskillen and the annual general meeting of the Ulster Unionist Fermanagh and South Tyrone Constituency Association.

Tom Elliott MLA had invited me to speak on the Stormont House proposals and the planned structure for addressing the past. And, so, a question on the on-the-runs (OTRs) - the republican suspects allowed to return home in the period after the Good Friday Agreement - was something I expected.

I gave a chronology of news reports, dates and some names, including Eibhlin Glenholmes, one of the high-profile cases settled almost 15 years ago.

And I specifically mentioned a report in this newspaper dating back to 2007 stuffed with figures supplied by the Attorney General's office.

I was making the point that the notion that nothing was known is just political nonsense.

Then, the following morning, I found a speech by Detective Chief Superintendent Bill Lowry that dates back to May 2001.

It is another important jigsaw piece that fits into a bigger picture. At the time Lowry was the head of Special Branch in Belfast, a man in the know, who was addressing the Superintendents' Conference.

And this is what he said in the presence of then Secretary of State John Reid: "Deals have been done with, to quote, 'OTRs', argued to be and portrayed as an element of the prisoner release scheme, but nonetheless another indication to the terrorists that the slate has been wiped clean."

When I found his speech I tweeted a line from it on Tuesday, which has since been retweeted by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. That committee has been taking evidence and has a report to write on the OTRs controversy.

It will be studied for its thinking and findings. And not just on the information gaps, but what it has to say about the great deal that was known and that should have been seen.

I reminded Monday's audience in Enniskillen that we have politicians who know when a bus is late, but who managed to miss all of this. We have a space that is worth watching.

  • Brian Rowan is a writer on security issues

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