Peter Robinson: “The justice system has been stood on its head…”

From Peter Robinson, First Minister of Northern Ireland:

The cloak of secrecy that has surrounded the operation of this scheme must be removed once and for all.

The justice system has been stood on its head to facilitate not the victims but the perpetrators of terrible crimes. After all, in the real world, what innocent person would go on the run for a crime they did not commit?

This week we have at least started the process to put right the wrongs that have been done by this OTR scheme over the past fifteen years. It is too late in the case of Downey but we must do all in our power to make sure that such an affront to justice is never repeated.

This administrative scheme, hidden from the public gaze for too long, has at long last been revealed to the horror of right thinking people.

The establishment of a judge led enquiry, the Secretary of State’s statement about the legal effect of the letters and the Assembly motion all represent quick and important steps on this issue but it will be in the long term that we will judge the success of the actions the Government has undertaken.

The simple requirement of all these processes can be summed up in two simple words, ‘never again’. Never again can any British Government permit a situation to arise where the victims of terrorism are denied the right to bring perpetrators of heinous crimes to justice. We will not rest until this has been secured and will insist that they follow the positive words with concrete actions and to fulfill the promises they have made.

The credibility of the justice system is a cornerstone in any democracy. In the weeks and months ahead we must work to make sure that the damage that has already been done will be repaired.

The needs of victims demand no less, the requirements of justice require no less and we will do everything in our power to ensure this sorry episode is consigned to the history books once and for all.

If by the actions that we have taken this week we have brought to an end this scandalous episode it will have been worth the effort.

The anger that has been provoked this week will not easily or quickly be calmed and the pain will endure but our task is to make sure that British justice is never sullied in this way again.

This entire incident has been another salutary lesson about the dangers of allowing powers to be exercised by those whose only concern was in appeasing the IRA. Devolution may be imperfect but no Stormont administration would ever have approved the scheme that was put in place by a direct rule administration.

It is appalling that we are now having to deal with the legacy of a process begun so many years ago but we should be confident that such arrangements will never be repeated.”

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