Three Fermanagh recipients of on the run letters: MLA
Published: 6 Mar 2014 15:300 comments
The trial of the former IRA man suspected of the Hyde Park bombing in 1982 collapsed last week when it was revealed that he received a letter which prevented him from being prosecuted. The revelation triggered what First Minister Peter Robinson described as a crisis at Stormont and at Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron said the letter issued to John Downey, from Co. Donegal, was a ‘dreadful mistake’.
It has since emerged that around 187 letters of this kind were issued to IRA suspects (OTRs) who were suspected of committing crimes during the Troubles and some of these letters were sent to people in Fermanagh, according to Sinn Fein MLA Sean Lynch.
“I know of at least three people from Fermanagh who received letters. These are people that have not been tried before any court and as such are innocent of any allegation or charge,” he said, adding that he was unsure of the content of the letters.
The Fermanagh-south Tyrone MLA said: “It must be remembered that people were forced to leave their homes and families for many reasons during the conflict. There were constant house raids, torture in barracks, Diplock Courts and harassment on road sides by the British military, RUC and the UDR and people were frightened.”
Mr Lynch described the row that erupted in the Assembly last week in which DUP leader Peter Robinson threatened to resign as First Minister as a “contrived crisis.”
“Unionists would have known that the OTRs was an anomaly that had to be dealt with. The subject of the OTRs is no secret and had been made public before and was included in the Eames/Bradley proposals and also mentioned in books by both Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell.”
“I don’t think Peter Robinson was serious about bringing the institutions down,” said Mr Lynch.
DUP MLA Arlene Foster has described the ‘deal’ between Sinn Fein and Tony Blair’s government as “deeply destabilising” and “unjust and dirty.”
“Peter [Robinson] was right to put pressure on the government in London and force them to set up an inquiry which will report before the end of May. Those who suggest pulling Stormont down should remember that when the Assembly disappears power is handed back to the same Northern Ireland Office that put this immoral system in place in the first instance.”
She spoke of treasuring “our independent judiciary” but added that the formation of a scheme which she said undermines confidence in the justice systems “makes me sick.”
“There are many countries in the world where there are kangaroo courts. The United Kingdom is not like that but this dirty system was trying to pick and choose who would receive justice and who would not. That was wrong,” she said.
Mrs Foster was adamant that her party was not aware of the letters.
“We have been aware of Sinn Fein campaigning about OTRs since 1999. When the government tried to deal with OTRs through legislation I travelled to London at my own expense and campaigned with victims in the Houses of Parliament to have that Bill defeated. I’m glad that we did see it defeated.”
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams told Impartial Reporter readers in our Twitter Q&A session last week that everyone who received a letter was innocent and that this system was not an amnesty. He also said that governments and political parties knew about the letters.
Mrs. Foster commented:
“Gerry Adams asked for an “invisible system” to deal with OTRs as he knew unionists would rip it apart if it was publicised. In terms of innocence, it’s a strange guiltless man or woman who flees their home country. If you’ve done nothing wrong why were you running in the first place?”
Sinn Fein and TUV have attacked the DUP and in some cases, Mrs Foster, for the reaction to this. Asked if this was simply a manufactured ‘crisis’ ahead of the elections in May, she said: “No, this is not manufactured. The DUP didn’t choose when the Court judgement in London was made. Those who say the rage in the unionist community was manufactured clearly don’t understand unionism. It stands justice on its head and people are right to be outraged.”
“I’m not surprised at the TUV attacking me. They want to wreck the DUP and Stormont. They want direct rule back and all the consequences which flow from that. The TUV spend more time attacking me than they do opposing republicans For Jim Allister to compare me to an OTR was offensive. I’m a PIRA victim. When in 1983 Jim Allister left the political scene to pursue a lucrative career at the courts, people like me living along the Border were facing the PIRA down daily. I’ll ignore Jim’s nasty jibe,” she said
Mrs Foster said the letters originated from the Weston Park talks in 2001.
“The DUP was a small unionist party then and we need to know who signed up to this deal,” she said.
Tom Elliott, an Ulster Unionist Party MLA for Fermanagh-south Tyrone, said the now controversial process had been “deceitful and in bad faith.”
“The reality is that this matter of issuing such letters has been ongoing for years in some type of private deal between Sinn Fein and the UK government.
“Some people had promised a new fair deal for Unionists if they got to power, however it didn’t stop this from progressing.”
“It will be interesting to establish how much information this enquiry will establish and the actual facts around the case, and of course we haven’t got the letters rescinded which was an absolute requirement from the First Minister or he would resign!” said Mr Elliott.