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.”

  • Morpheus


    If PR wanted to see justice turned on his head then all he had to do was take a trip to Derry and talk to the families of those murdered on Bloody Sunday. Justice in Northern Ireland has been on it’s head since the day and hour Northern Ireland was formed.

    Over the past few days we have see nothing but the worst kind of politicking. Terms like ‘amnesty’, ‘immunity’ and ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ cards were thrown around knowing full well that none of those terms applied.

    PR chucked a hissy-fit, threatened ‘resignation’ and within 24 hours he was thrown a dummy by the PM as a judge now looks through 186 letters and verifies that the PSNI did their job properly which takes until the and of May apparently, coincidentally just after the local and European elections.

    And he has the audacity to try to sell that as a win. Embarrassing.

    Line up unionists – the DUP want to march you up to the top of the hill again. Get comfortable when you are up there, you’ll be there a while.

    “The credibility of the justice system is a cornerstone in any democracy.”

    We’ll hold you to that

  • Comrade Stalin

    It’s early days to say that the PSNI did their job properly. It’s as likely as not that if the PSNI screwed up this badly on one letter that they may have screwed up on others.

    But unionism is only damaging itself here. Robinson could have calmly decried the scheme, and demanded and got an inquiry. But by talking up this nonsense about an amnesty he is bringing trouble down on his own head by inviting people to inquire into exactly what he and his party knew. It won’t go down well of if the judge in the inquiry finds that the DUP were aware of the scheme – and there are certainly plenty of people in the NIO and elsewhere who are motivated to ensure that this is shouted from the rooftops.

  • Comrade Stalin

    “The credibility of the justice system is a cornerstone in any democracy.”

    Gotta laugh at that. The DUP was impinging upon judicial independence not too long ago.

  • Morpheus

    I really hope that the Judge calls Jonathan Powell.

    But since all he is doing is checking letters…

  • DC

    Got to feel for the victims, as the worst thing about being lied to is knowing that you weren’t worth the truth.

    But sure it’s all a big DUP plot and stunt everyone knew, even Big Jock.

  • Neil

    I think Robbo has got the inquiry on the terms he wanted. He knows that a full inquiry would be more damaging for his own party than anyone else. I imagine the conversation as being something along these lines:

    “Ok Theresa, I need an excuse to row back here. If the electorate find out what that I knew about this years ago, I really will foul the nest as I’ll have no other choice, and frankly I’ve had my fun now and am just about ready to hang up my boots. Give me an inquiry on the narrowest terms possible and I’ll defuse this by lunch time tomorrow.”

  • mr x

    Apparently the former NI minister Shaun Woodward has been accused of lying about this.He of course used to be the Tory MP for the same seat that David Cameron now sits for.before he defected.So if there is trouble it’s heading one way.Not as if Cameron or his chums are popular with the Army or police right now.

  • sherdy

    Mick, I think the heading for your story could more accurately have been ‘The truth has been stood on its head’.

    Read today’s article by Brian Rowan on what information came into the public domain over the years and you will see that the whole nonsense by the DUP, slavishly followed by UUP and Alliance was fabricated in the hope of electoral advantage.

    I am really surprised that you could quote U-turn Robinson’s speech without any caveat or health warning.

    Report – could do better, Mick.

  • So running around the countryside in red berets, threatening insurrection against a democratically elected government and frightening the cows will be no more?

  • Barnshee

    Whether the DUPERS etc knew is irrelevant. The prod population did not know
    .Try a referendum which included

    1 Murderers get out
    2 No further action on unsolved murders
    2 Absconded murder suspects will get a by ball

    Had the truth been told there would have been no Good Friday agreement

  • DC

    It’s a pity Mick wouldn’t hazard a guess whether the DUP knew or not given he is awash with info more so than ordinary readers on here. I reckon they may have suspected it and maybe based on Powell’s book they might have known.

    Although why didn’t the DUP just blame the UUP as in Powell’s book if it was all a plot, nothing like blaming the UUP and using the UUP as a useful scapegoat.

    I am sure if the DUP knew Alliance also knew.

  • between the bridges

    The devil is in the detail, everyone knows/assumes there were deals and that some were untouchable. All this storm in a tea cup has done is bring it out in the open and the result will be the same as before virtually no one will be convicted for pre GFA crimes. Someday we will deal with the present and the future…

  • Politico68

    Robbo is doing what he has to do. Act all indignant, shocked at the scandal of it all, and as a leading politician of a western democracy- ish thingy, give the usual statesmanlike bluster about how uncivilised and unacceptable it is, all the time hoping to wring some votes out of the mess.

    He probably had some idea of what had gone on, or maybe he didnt have a clue. Either way, it doesn’t matter. More nonsense *YAWN*

    Back to me books here.

    ***MICK **** Any chance you might get someone to throw up a demographic shift thread, considering the school census results have been released?? It would be interesting to hear what people have to say regarding the probability of a shift in the political power balance coming over the hill?

  • BluesJazz

    The silver cloud, I suppose, is that the Army (and RUC) have thankfully now been given , effectively, a line in the sand over any possible interpretations that a few spontaneous reactions will ever be interpreted as criminal acts.

    It doesn’t take away from what the religious terrorist (IRA/INLA/UDA/UVF) criminals did, and they should still be held accountable.

    David Cameron has managed the situation (put in place by those scumbags Blair and Hain) very well. He deserves credit.
    Blair and Hain left him with sh*t and he had to live with it.

  • lamhdearg

    mean while the search continues for the guilty, sorry, non irish nat guilty
    Bloody Sunday billboards in Derry

    U.TV ‎- 11 hours ago

    Police have erected billboards in Londonderry calling for witnesses to Bloody Sunday and anyone who gave evidence to the Saville Inquiry to …

  • BluesJazz

    do what lahmdearg?

    Any chance of ‘closure’ has gone in that case:

    “justice” died with Blair’s farewell legislation. In all cases.
    So it goes.

  • Morpheus

    Jesus wept. What line in the sand? If any soldier or police officer wants exactly the same letter then they can ask for one and get one very easily. All it will do is confirm if they are wanted and warn them that they will face prosecution if new evidence emerges. In other words EXACTLY what the OTRs got.

    it amazes me that lots of people waffle about how the DUP doesn’t represent their community, left behid their community blah diddy blah blah blah but still fall for their bullshit every single time, regurgitating their mantras for them. This is exactly why they are up the hill on their own, freezing their asses off before they even realise that its happened again

  • lamhdearg

    can i avail of such a letter?.

    One thing the dup commotion has done is put the idea in the minds of many a brition and beyond, that there is/was something one sided about how irish nat interests are beeing treated (favorably), this conflicts with how it has been.
    Should they be clever enough to milk this thinking they may retrive some of the support they have lost locally over what seem to have been another stand down.

  • Morpheus

    Absolutely you can avail of such a letter lamhdearg. All it will say is:
    “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been informed by the Attorney General that on the basis of the information currently available, there is no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there are no warrants in existence nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you from any other police force in the United Kingdom. If any other outstanding offence or offences came to light, or if any request for extradition were to be received, these would have to be dealt with in the usual way.”

    No talk of amnesty, immunity, get-out-of-jail-free cards or any other BS mantra that the DUP has thrown out there for the average person to swallow up so they will vote for them and secure their seats/salaries/pensions/expenses for another term at least. As you can see there is nothing even remotely close to that effect.

    We all knew the tribal tom-toms would be beaten in time for the elections and that’s all this is – the worst kind of politicking. Time to be marched up to the top of the hill and left there again

  • lamhdearg

    Morp, how does the mechanics of that work, i mean how do i get the letter not what it may(or may not**) say, do i simply walk into a police station and ask for it, or do i need to have a paramilitary force (of the irish nats kind) behind me threating armed insurrection.

    ** unless all the letters are released into the public domain we can only sermise the above may not be a complete representation of them all.

  • Morpheus

    That quote is directly from The Ministerial Statement, the details of which was published in Pete’s thread on Wednesday which everyone ignored….this could’ve been put to bed then.

    The letters were mere statements of fact at that time which included a warning – nothing more, nothing less. One was issued in error but that’s a different story.

    As for how you would get one then I assume that you can write to the PSNI and ask if you are wanted for anything. Maybe an FOI request?

    But I have to ask again because everyone seems to have their knickers in a knot about these letters, how did everyone expect the PSNI to send the requested confirmation? Pigeon? Smoke signals?

  • lamhdearg

    ** unless all the letters are released into the public domain we can only sermise the above may not be a complete representation of them all.
    Or we can semise as you seem to do that the above is a complete representation,
    I am less trusting of what tony liar would have seen as sound morality.
    The proof would be in the reading,
    as for writing to the psni, not having an armed wing i dont think i will risk it.

  • Morpheus

    Why do you need an armed wing to write to the PSNI? Let’s hope I don’t need to verify speeding tickets or anything like that with them because I don’t have an armed wing either.

    The Ministerial Statement was not made by Tony Blair, it was made by the Conservative Secretary of State Theresa Villiers. I am not sure on what grounds you can question her integrity but if we must go down the devious route don’t you think that if there was something there that could hurt Labor don’t you think she would use it?

    The actual letters don’t need to be made public, the people who have them have evidently no case to answer and it would put their safety at risk…all we need to know is that the contents were correct. Which is what the judge is doing – apparently verifying the content of the letters will take until the end of May, coincidentally just AFTER the local and European elections. Hmmmmm. Ah well, all part of the dummy tit thrown to PR on his monumental, highly embarassing climb-down

  • lamhdearg

    from the news letter,
    “Tony Blair and Peter Hain could be summoned to appear before a second inquiry into how ‘letters of comfort’ were issued to IRA fugitives, a former Labour minister said last night.”
    more knickers geting into knots.

  • Morpheus

    They’ll have no difficulty explaining the ‘letters of comfort” and who knew what and when because that is well documented.

    The Royal Prerogative of Mercy – now that’s a different ball-game. Pardons are the epitome of cowardice and should never have been requested nor granted in my opinion.

  • lamhdearg

    I disagree on the need for the letters to be made public,why should a letter stating someone has no case to answer put that persons safety at risk, what publishing the letters may do however is help those hundreds of victims who believe that those quilty of causing the suffering have been given a bye, that is if the letters are what the powers that be say they are, i suppose its boiling down to trust and what importance we as a society put on the views of victims.

  • fordprefect

    Have the DUP, UUP, AP, SDLP and uncle Tom Cobley and all got very bad memories? Last May, (after John Downey got arrested) Gerry Kelly held a press conference (on television and it was in the papers about it as well) highlighting the fact that John Downey had a letter assuring him that no police force either here or in Britain wanted him for anything. Why was there no jumping up and down in hysterics then? It wouldn’t have anything to do with there being elections this year, would it?

  • Morpheus

    If it takes the letters being published to show that this is just a DUP stunt to win votes in the upcoming elections then I am sure that the names could be blanked but Peter Hain “who was secretary of state when the process to deal with On the Runs was introduced, told the court that the key phraseology used in the personal letters was “in essence common to all, that on the basis of current information they were not wanted and would not be arrested.”

    The reason why “hundreds of victims who believe that those guilty of causing the suffering have been given a bye” is because of DUP bullshit. As has been shown over and over again there was no amnesty, no immunity and no GOOJF cards. They should have looked at the Ministerial Statement, seen the wording of the letters, talked to their colleagues on the PB who were briefed on the scheme and the whole thing could’ve been put to bed but nooooo, this was an opportunity to win votes after the Haass debacle showed that the DUP/UUP are led by the nose by the totally non-representative Loyal Orders.

    And I can assure you not a single feck was given about the victims.

  • DC

    I think the pardons need to be examined in more detail to see if there is any connection to these letters and no longer being wanted or the police being in a position to write that these suspects were no longer wanted.

    I think to isolate the pardons and focus on the administrative scheme and letters might be missing something as to the dynamics of the whole process.

    I am going to suggest that PSNI inaction around Downey was not maladministration but political policing to pervert the course of justice based on secret deals constructed by political masters – the British government and Blair. And that the PSNI abused its power – the power of doing nothing was applied in the case of Downey in terms of not updating his status to ‘wanted’ in order to keep SF sweet.

  • Morpheus

    I am open to correction but I think the Royal prerogative of mercy can only be issued to those who have been actually tried and convicted.

    So in the case of these letters then in theory none of them should’ve needed a RPOM because they were not convicted of anything. But time will tell.

    The idea of pardons makes my skin crawl.

  • lamhdearg

    with you on that last bit DC, lets hope the dups judge lead inquiry lets us know if there where others, what happened to the officer involved in the dowey letter?, who knows HE/she quickly moved on to some cosy high paid one ireland job most likely, i dont suspect it will do HE/she any harm.

  • DC

    Had a quick dip into the judgement to look for the word ‘pardon’ – make of it what you will:

    ‘I believe the limitations of the scheme were understood by all. I believe it was understood by the Irish government because at one stage they asked the Attorney General to consider whether the promise made by government could be met by the use of pre conviction pardons.’

    There may have been OTRs whose situation meant these letters were of no use them in terms of getting off and pardons may have been used, could the NIO letter have then been issued after receiving the pre-conviction pardon?

  • DC

    *to them

  • Morpheus

    Maybe those who got letters which said “Yip, we want you” went down the RPOM route. 13 of these were issued since the year 2000

    Time will tell

  • IanR

    The RPOMs were for prisoner escapees, who had already served two years prior to escaping. There are news articles dating back more than ten years about those cases so they’re not a new revelation.