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John Downey outrage may herald death knell for Haass

At Northern Ireland questions yesterday there were a series of issues from the economy to the aggregates levy on the agenda. But our MPs wanted answers about the case of John Downey and the collapse of the case against him in relation to Hyde Park bombing in 1982.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers (above) was ambushed by one of her own party on the first question on the National Security Agency.

Tory MP Neil Carmichael asked for an assurance she will "not entertain any ideas of amnesties for terrorists, unlike the last government".

Villiers said: "We opposed the legislation proposed under the last government that would have created an effective amnesty."

The Speaker attempted to steer questions back to the NSA, but he gave up when it became clear that the Downey case would dominate proceedings.

Nigel Dodds was angry. He said the Downey decision "has undermined confidence not just in policing and justice" but in the wider peace process. He told the Secretary of State to "rescind this shameful backdoor scheme".

Villiers said around 200 cases have been processed "through this scheme; they were sent factual letters stating whether or not they were wanted for terrorist offences".

She added: "Clearly it is not an amnesty and was never intended as such. "

She conceded that "a grave mistake was made". Dodds told her there is "outrage right across the country not just in Northern Ireland" that a letter from an official "can trump due process of law in this country".

"Will the Secretary of State not realise how serious this is not just for the process of law and order but for the very stability and continued existence of devolution in Northern Ireland, where the assembly has full responsibility for policing and justice?"

Dodds was outraged that the existence of the "scheme" was withheld from the Justice Minister and the First Minister.

"This has very, very serious implications for devolution," he warned.

Former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain rose to defend his actions in setting up the "scheme".

"There was never any question of an amnesty," he said.

Hain defended the peace process in the round.

"Just as we had to deals with my DUP friends sitting over there to get to this point, so we had to do deals with Sinn Fein to get to this point, and it was necessary for the negotiations to succeed and peace to be established," he added.

Dodds and William McCrea shouted "disgraceful" and "they were terrorists" as Hain was speaking.

McCrea said the Downey case "has made Haass a farce and destroyed any process that Haass has started".

Mark Durkan told Hain that the Labour government "had been warned at the time about their penchant for side deals, pseudo-deals, sub-deals, shabby deals and secret deals, which are now doing fundamental damage to the Haass process and the process more widely".

Could the revelations of a "scheme" which was not in any way an amnesty, but appears in effect to be just that in the case of John Downey, be the death knell for the agreement Dr Haass spend so long trying to deliver?

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