On Facebook yesterday, I saw a query from an old schoolfriend (from P1, as it happens). He’s about as apolitical it is possible to be, but his curiosity was clearly piqued and he asked a question about how on earth the NIO managed to get all those letters out to the OTRs.
The answer as we now know was via Sinn Fein.
We’ll have to await the outcome of the Review to see just how rigorous the processes were. But in effect the UK Government outsourced the assembly of that list, the delivery of the offer, the collation of acceptances and finally the delivery of the [bulletproof? – Ed] letters.
Anyway. I’ve just had this from the SDLP press office. I think it adequately expands on that thought. It’s a chunk of Alban Maguinness’s contribution to the debate this afternoon:
“One of the most important principles in modern government is transparency, and that is a very good guiding principle, particularly for a divided and fearful society such as ours. In relation to on-the-runs, no transparency was shown whatsoever by either the British Government or, indeed, Sinn Féin.
“We have talked a lot about collusion in this House, and rightly so. Here was an act of monumental collusion between the British Government and Sinn Féin. Their secret postal service was a specially devised system to, as it were, bring relief to their IRA members. It was not done for the good of the peace. It was not done for the peace process. It was done for the selfish individual interests of Sinn Féin.
“That is the reality of the situation. It was a clandestine process. There is absolutely no doubt about it. Indeed, ‘The Irish News’ yesterday referred to it as being the next best thing to an effective amnesty. Where was there concern shown for the victims of the Troubles in all of that by either the British Government or Sinn Féin? Let us remind ourselves that Peter Hain introduced a Bill, the Hain Bill, to deal with the on-the-runs. That Bill was designed to undermine the rule of law, because, effectively, if you had been found guilty, you were immediately released.
“Mr Kelly is a very deficient historian, it seems to me. Hain introduced his Bill, which was thrown out because of extensive opposition from the SDLP and others. The fact is that that Bill was regarded by most people as a monstrosity. Despite the fact that public opinion and political opinion was against the Bill, the British Government reverted to the administrative scheme that had been in place for some time on an ad hoc basis. They put it on a systematic basis and institutionalised it. That is the problem, as I see it. That is represented by Operation Rapid, which was introduced in February 2007.
“The preferential treatment of IRA men regarding their potential criminal liability was and is appalling. It is totally insulting to reasonable, law-abiding people who play by the rules of society. How can it be acceptable to make an exception for those people involved in such serious activities? The days of side deals, shabby deals and secret deals should be well and truly over.
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