Parties unite to block return of IRA fugitives
Henry McDonald, Ireland editor
Sunday November 6, 2005
Plans to grant amnesties to republican fugitives could be delayed by at least a year thanks to an an alliance of Tories, Unionists and Liberal Democrats.
The Northern Ireland spokesmen for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, along with Ulster Unionist peers, confirmed this weekend they intend to hold up Tony Blair's plans to allow the IRA 'on-the-runs' (OTRs) back home.
Republicans had been planning major welcome-home celebrations for IRA fugitives. These included Sinn Fein's former Washington spokeswoman Rita O'Hare, who is wanted in Northern Ireland in connection with attacks on British troops in the 1970s.
Allowing the OTRs home was an important concession offered to the republican movement in secret negotiations between Tony Blair's envoy Jonathan Powell and IRA leaders that led to the 28 July statement announcing the republican's 'armed struggle' was over.
The Northern Ireland Office confirmed last night that legislation would be introduced at Westminster later this month allowing for a full parliamentary debate on the OTR issue. But David Liddington, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary predicted yesterday that the bill would get a rough ride.
'The Government has acted with indecent haste in granting a concession that wasn't even part of the Good Friday Agreement,' he said.
'Before these people are allowed home there should be a series of conditions attached which includes any "on-the-run" should be put through the courts and forced to confront their crimes; subsequently their freedom should be subject to a license and, just as important, those people exiled by the IRA should also be allowed to go home.'
Northern Ireland-born Liberal Democrat spokesman Lembit Opik accused the Blair government of 'taking for granted the cross-party support' for its policies in Ulster.
'We believe Tony Blair made a deal with Sinn Fein without the consultation of any other party in Northern Ireland, which is unfair and contrary to the spirit of the Agreement.
'When this legislation was drawn up there should have been provision made for the exiles and guarantees that the "on-the-runs" will face the judicial system. If necessary we will support stalling this legislation. No legislation is better than unjust, bad legislation.'
Lord Laird of Artigarvan said he was also rallying support in the House of Lords to hold up the OTR bill. The Ulster Unionist peer promised his party and others would 'ping pong' the legislation between the two Houses at Westminster.
'When it comes to the Lords my colleagues and I will be seeking cross party support to put down amendments and slow up the process of this legislation. If it takes a year so be it,' he said.
The Northern Ireland Office and the Police Service of Northern Ireland have refused to disclose exactly who is on the IRA OTR list, even though just before its disbandment an RUC assistant chief constable was given the task of gathering names of wanted republicans.
These include Owen Carron, the former Sinn Fein MP wanted in connection with firearms charges, and Leonard 'Bap' Hardy whothe police want to question about the 1982 Banbridge bombing.
The republican movement's own list of OTRs includes two men who fled Ireland after the murder in 1996 of Garda Jerry McCabe. The pair are living in Central America but have applied to come back to the Republic.
But while the Irish government has urged Britain to move swiftly to allow OTRs back to Northern Ireland, Dublin has been reluctant to let the two McCabe murder suspects back.
Garda's Widow To Fight OTRs At Westminster
Tuesday 29th November 2005
The widow of murdered Garda detective Jerry McCabe is to travel to Westminster in the New Year to oppose the on-the-runs legislation.
Ann McCabe had already given her backing to the all-party campaign at Westminster against the Northern Ireland Offences Bill which will grant an amnesty to IRA suspects believed to have carried out murder and other acts of violence during the Troubles.
Now it has been revealed she is so angered by the Bill and the similar "pardon" to be granted to terrorists in the Republic, that she is going to London to confront the British Government.
Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird of Artigarvan last night told the News Letter: "The killers of Ann's husband and those still on-the-run but wanted in connection with the murder will not be included this dirty deal.
"But she is angry about it. She identifies very strongly with the victims of IRA terror in Northern Ireland and feels for their plight.
"So she has confirmed she will show solidarity by coming to Westminster around the time the Bill reaches the House of Lords."
Lord Laird said her involvement would increase the profile of the OTRs campaign in the south, where he said people had not fully cottoned on to the fact that other terrorists, such as the perpetrators of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which killed 33 people, would be granted a pardon too.
"It's time people in the Republic woke to the pure evil of this Bill," he said
Mrs McCabe told the Observer newspaper at the weekend: "I heard the British Government comparing this legislation to the process in South Africa where people convicted of crimes were given an amnesty. "It is not like South Africa in any way, because there those responsible had to own up to their crimes in an open, public forum. That's not going to happen with this legislation.
"Those responsible for terrible crimes are getting the slate wiped clean, without taking responsibility for the past," she said, referring to the fact they will not have to appear in court.
Yesterday, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern reiterated his determination to press ahead with granting presidential pardons to paramilitary fugitives.
The mechanism to grant amnesties to OTRs from the Republic has been criticised too by the south's opposition parties, for being constitutionally dubious and hurtful to victims of unsolved crimes.
But Mr Ahern said the issue of pardons for OTRs had been in the pipeline since 2001 and had to be resolved to continue momentum in the Northern Ireland peace process.
"This was an arrangement that was made four-and-a-half-years ago exactly. It was very publicly announced at that time. What was agreed at that time is now going through the legislative process, so Mr Blair is going ahead with that," he said.
Mr Ahern said that only a handful of people were likely to qualify for pardons under the Irish mechanism to deal with the issue.
Under the Irish government's plans, an eligibility board will receive and vet applications before passing them onto the Justice Department for consideration.
The cabinet will then study candidates before finally referring them to President McAleese to grant the pardons.
* DUP councillor Robin Newton has placed a motion before Belfast City Council expressing opposition to the OTRs plans and claiming they are not in the interests of either Northern Ireland as a whole or Belfast in particular.
Parties unite to block return of IRA fugitives
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