The Belfast Telegraph called in polling heavyweights Mori to conduct an opinion poll on the popularity of the OTR legislation with the Northern Irish population. The results showed an unusually high degree of agreement across the community boundary, especially on the issue of whether OTRs should turn up in person at any judicial review:
Protestants are more likely to be opposed to the scheme, although more Catholics find it unacceptable (43%) than acceptable (33%). Among the Protestants surveyed, 81% said they find the plans unacceptable. However, there is a strong consensus across both communities that any of the OTRs who benefit from it should have to appear before a special tribunal. Seventy-eight per cent of people questioned, including two-thirds of Catholics and 89% of Protestants, say OTRs should have to show up before the tribunal.
Poll details and analysis:
The scheme be extended to include members of the security forces:
Strongly Agreed: 35% – Don’t know: 22% – Disagreed slightly: 8% – Disagreed strongly: 20% – Agreed slightly: 15%
Do you view the Government’s On The Runs scheme as an amnesty?
YES: 65% – NO: 15% – DON’T KNOW 20%
Should fugitives be required to appear in front of the tribunal?
YES: 78% – NO: 9% – DON’T KNOW: 13%
Poll exposes deep public misgivings over terror amnesty bill
The Belfast Telegraph’s Political Correspondent Noel McAdam analyses the findings of the poll and reveals how they will make unsettling reading for the Government.
Already under severe pressure – and opposed by all the main political parties – the survey underlined the extent of public misgivings over the legislation currently going through Parliament.
The survey revealed nearly two-thirds of Northern Ireland people view the Government Northern Ireland Offences Bill as an amnesty.
And almost four out of five people believe former paramilitaries should be required to appear in person before the special tribunals which would be set up under the scheme.
Half, however, said they agreed the scheme should be extended to members of the security forces, with 35% agreeing “strongly”.
Overall, however, virtually half of those questioned said the scheme was “not at all acceptable” and a further 14% said it was “not very” acceptable.
Six per cent, however, said they regarded the proposal as “very acceptable” and a further 14% as “quite acceptable” with seven per cent opting for “neither acceptable or unacceptable” and 10% “don’t knows”.
A representative sample of more than 1,000 people were questioned by the Ipsos MORI organisation in the run-up to Christmas with the OTR issue high in the headlines.
The harsh criticism in the survey came with the Government signalling it is ready to make further concessions to the legislation in the New Year – particularly, it seems, over the requirement for individuals to appear.
Without Liberal Democrat support, the legislation is unlikely to make it through the House of Lords.
A total of 65% of those questioned said they viewed the scheme as an amnesty, with 15% saying it did not amount to an amnesty and 20% either opting for “don’t know” or declining to answer.
And a total of 78% said those eligible for the proposed scheme under the Northern Ireland Offences Bill should be required to appear in front of the ‘court’ – with nine per cent opposed and 14% “don’t know/not stated”.
Twenty-eight per cent overall disagreed with the fact that the scheme has been extended to include security forces personnel – 20% “strongly disagreed” and eight per cent “slightly” disagreed.
But 35% said they agreed “strongly” the security forces should be included and a further 15% agreeing “slightly”.
The Bill, which would allow paramilitary suspects who have never faced court for alleged outrages committed before the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 to avoid a prison sentence, was given a second reading in the House of Commons last month.
The 310-272 majority failed to convey the depth of anger expressed by opposition parties, however, with even Secretary of State Peter Hain’s immediate predecessor, Paul Murphy, expressing strong misgivings.
The Bill then went into detailed committee stage, with Direct Rule Minister David Hanson agreeing to return with proposals relating to the requirement of individuals to appear in the New Year.
Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,057 adults across Northern Ireland. Interviews were conducted on a face-to-face basis between November 16 and December 9, 2005.
Published in the Belfast Telegraph, on Wednesday 11th January 2006
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty