HENRY McDonald reports how parties in the House of Lords are set to unite in their opposition to legislation to allow suspected IRA fugitives to return home. Ultimately, this would delay matters for maybe a year before the Government would force something cobbled together through. There is also the prospect of the Irish Government taking a tougher legislative line on ‘On-The-Runs’ (OTRs) than the British. This is going to be a key political battleground in the next few months.In the Observer, both the LibDems and the Tories linked OTRS returning to the issue of those exiled by the IRA also being allowed to return home. The Government has specifically refused to link the two issues, despite it being an obvious tactic. After the sense of hurt felt after early prisoner releases, this seems to be the Government repeating the mistakes of the past.
The irony is, that if the Government gets its way, OTRs will be allowed to return to be released on licence after a quasi-judicial process. Whether innocent or guilty, they will not face a prison sentence, but neither will they have to face their victim, should that victim want to see their day in court for the little justice they can hope for. Sinn Fein is very keen on community restorative justive, part of which involves the victim being able to meet whoever offended against them, if they want to. That logic doesn’t appear to apply to themselves.
On the other hand, if those exiled from Northern Ireland by the IRA return home, they can expect a real sentence from a real court if they were guilty of any crime, or the kind of justice that is still meted out to those ‘guilty’ of anti-social activity.
In effect, the rights of one set of exiles is being elevated above another by the Government and Sinn Fein.
It will also be very interesting to see how the security services and military establishment respond to the prospect of ‘their boys’ being held accountable in a court of law for possible misdeeds during the Troubles, but not suspected terrorists. The Telegraph presents this argument as ‘Persecution for soldiers, pardon for terrorists’.
Blair could be facing hostility from more than the opposition benches. He couldn’t deliver what he promised Sinn Fein at Weston Park – will he be caught out again?