Government named two to avail of OTRs

Thursday 17 July 2014 22.49
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Four soldiers and seven horses were killed in the Hyde Park bombing in 1982
Four soldiers and seven horses were killed in the Hyde Park bombing in 1982
John Downey was one of nearly 200 republicans who received letters of assurance telling them they were not wanted by the authorities
John Downey was one of nearly 200 republicans who received letters of assurance telling them they were not wanted by the authorities
Lady Justice Heather Hallett found if the scheme was properly administered the John Downey case would not have collapsed
Lady Justice Heather Hallett found if the scheme was properly administered the John Downey case would not have collapsed

It has emerged that the Government also put forward people to avail of the controversial 'on-the-runs' (OTRs) scheme which was the subject of a report today by Lady Justice Hallett.

The Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed it put forward the names of two men to the British authorities to be considered for the scheme.

In a statement this afternoon in response to queries from RTÉ, a spokesperson for the department said it acted "as a conduit for two individual cases" after representations had been made.

This happened in 2002.

The department said it believes the names of the two would already have been brought to the attention of the British authorities.

The statement concluded that it would not be appropriate to provide any further details on the matter.

The review of the scheme found it had significant systemic failures but that it was lawful.

The scheme, which resulted in the collapse of the trial of IRA Hyde Park bomb suspect John Downey, has identified two other examples of cases where similar errors were made.

Mr Downey was one of nearly 200 republicans who received letters of assurance telling them they were not wanted by the authorities. The police in England were in fact looking for Mr Downey.

In the report today, Lady Justice Hallett found the scheme was not secret but that it was not widely publicised.

The report found that if the scheme was properly administered the case would not have collapsed. 

However, Ms Villiers told the House of Commons this afternoon the review found that letters sent to the suspected terrorists, saying they were not wanted by UK police, do not give them immunity from prosecution.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers apologised for the hurt caused to victims of terrorism over the collapse of the Downey case.

The British government has been clear that if sufficient evidence emerges, then individual OTRs will be liable for prosecution, Ms Villiers said.

"On the central issue of whether the OTR administrative scheme gave suspected terrorists immunity from prosecution, Lady Justice Hallett is very clear.

"She concludes that 'the administrative scheme did not amount to an amnesty for terrorists. Suspected terrorists were not handed a get out of jail free card.

"The government has always been clear that if sufficient evidence emerges, then individual OTRs are liable for arrest and prosecution in the normal way.

She added: "So I repeat again today to the people holding these letters - they will not protect you from arrest or prosecution and, should the police succeed in gathering sufficient evidence, you will be subject to due process of law."

British Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the inquiry after Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson threatened to resign over the issue.

Sinn Féin has always denied the letters were part of a secret deal with then British prime minister Tony Blair.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he looks forward to reading the report, adding that it is an issue that has been around for some time.

He said he spoke to Mr Cameron briefly yesterday and expects to talk to him again next week.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said the scheme was wrong in principle and shambolic in practice.

Mr Robinson said there were a series of errors that needed to be rectified.

He said he has spoken to Ms Villiers and is grateful for her commencing legal advice to ensure nobody else is able to use the letters as a barrier to prosecution.