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More questions than answers for angry MPs

Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General for England and Wales, is no political street fighter. Polite, painstakingly cautious, his appearances at the dispatch box usually resemble a sedate law lecture.

It was his decision, along with the Crown Prosecution Service, to press for a prosecution of John Downey. He came to the House to answer an urgent question, a device at the disposal of the Speaker to allow MPs to get answers when ministers aren't planning to provide them.

Grieve set out his decision to push for a prosecution and by and large MPs were sympathetic. But with barristers as skilled as Grieve, it is instructive to note the questions he didn't answer. Who wrote the letters to the on-the-runs? What was in the letters? How many received letters? Were they all from republican backgrounds?

None of these were answered.

MPs were angry, not with Grieve but with the whole mess the Government finds itself in.

"There has been no knowledge or even a hint of information about (the letters), which is a scandalous abuse of Parliament and the people's representatives," thundered Nigel Dodds.

Sylvia Hermon, who said she has "enormous regard" for Grieve, complained: "How this Government can hold their heads up and talk about respect for human rights and the right to life and the rule of law beats me."

Naomi Long had more questions: "Who administered the scheme?

"Who negotiated with devolved institutions behind the back of the Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland, so that this scheme could continue?"

Grieve added: "My remit and responsibility in this matter is confined to a number of very specific things."

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