[Updated] Did Blair’s ‘Tonyish’ deal keep the Irish Government in the dark…

And in the Guardian

The ex-minister said that not only was the Fianna Fáil led administration – which lasted until 2011 – unaware of the letters, ministers in Dublin had rejected a similar proposal from republicans: “While Sinn Féin brought up the issue of the ‘on the runs’ regularly with us, we never had any information about the existence of these letters and I think that is the case for all of the cabinet back then.

“Clearly they went and got a deal on the ‘on the runs’ from the British but we had no idea about it and the British never told us at the time about these letters”.

Irish government officials working in peace process negotiations at the time have also told the Guardian that they were unaware about the existence of the letters, which have prompted a political crisis in Northern Ireland – including a threat of resignation from the Democratic Unionist first minister, Peter Robinson.



  • Charles_Gould


    This seems at odds with the following Tweet fro Rebecca Black, yesterday:

    “A lesser known part of the Downey judgement reveals that Irish Gov submitted two names to OTR letter scheme and Prison Service submitted ten”

  • Mick Fealty

    Aha, good spot Charles… I’m planning to take some time over the weekend to read the judgement in full… I suspect there’s a lot of hidden gems in there…

  • Son of Strongbow

    Indeed there are….

    The judgement will become the ‘white paper’ of the, I suspect, increasing number of anti-GFA agreement unionists.

    Let’s run that referendum again and see how it goes.

  • Charles_Gould


    I am sure you are right that the judgement will be important.

    But I just want to make one point about the GFA. The approach taken to on the runs is not implied by the GFA or a logical corrollory of it; indeed David Trimble has said that the GFA implied that on the runs could go to prison for two years just like everyone else. There was no reason to turn against the GFA itself, or to blame that agreement, for the secret SF/NIO collusion regarding on the runs.

  • Morpheus

    Three things Charles

    1. You are completely right, this has bugger all to do with the GFA

    2. You say that David Trimble has said that the GFA implied that on the runs could go to prison for two years just like everyone else. The key ingredient that you – and everyone else – seems to be ignoring is that there was insufficient evidence to convict anyone who got those letters. They didn’t need to spend 2 years in prison but, as was clearly stated in the letter, if new evidence came to light then they would’ve faced prosecution.

    3. How can you describe them at secret when there were briefings to the police board with our political parties represented, Eames Bradley, Denis Bradley confirming that he briefef the PB, policing board members saying they knew, the Government Chief of Staff saying that the DUP knew and so on. The person who seems to have a genuine excuse that he didn’t know was the one man who should’ve known from the off and that’s The Justice Minister.

  • Mick Fealty


    I do agree with you, but only up to a point. The conflation one with the other is both dangerous and misleading, but take a look at the conviction rates from 98 onwards…

  • IanR

    “The approach taken to on the runs is not implied by the GFA or a logical corrollory of it; indeed David Trimble has said that the GFA implied that on the runs could go to prison for two years just like everyone else.”

    The prisoners legislation that stemmed from the GFA stated that, but wasn’t the GFA itself (without having a copy to hand) more ambiguous? Two years is coincidentally the approximate difference in time between the referendum on the GFA in 1998 and the general prisoner release in 2000.

    Did the ‘creative ambiguity’ allow republicans to sell it to their base as “all prisoners will be released in two years FROM NOW [date of referendum]”, whereas unionists took it as “prisoners will serve two years” (thus the July 2000 date was only applicable to those who were already serving time as of the date of the referendum)?

  • IanR

    To answer my own question, I’ve just looked up the wording of the Belfast Agreement:

    “In addition, the intention would be that should the circumstances allow it, any qualifying prisoners who remained in custody two years after the commencement of the scheme would be released at that point.

    The Governments will seek to enact the appropriate legislation to give effect to these arrangements by the end of June 1998. [Royal Assent later slipped to July 1998.]”

    That’s pretty clear – ‘two years after the commencement of the scheme’ is a fixed point in time – i.e. June [actually July] 2000. It’s SF who appear to have been shafted by Blair’s subsequent ‘letters to Trimble’ giving assurances that the release date would be a moveable feast based on the principle that all prisoners must serve at least two years, meaning any subsequent convictions would lead to incarceration beyond the date of July 2000. That was then followed through into the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.

  • Son of Strongbow

    The agreement referred to “prisoners”, i.e. those already serving time.

    The agreement did not say, imply, hint or whatever that any subsequently convicted person would have their two-year stretch taken as having commenced in the middle of ’98.

    How possibly could it? Anyone convicted after the middle of 2000 would have to be given a seat on the Tardis to comply with what is alleged to be the import of this section of the GFA.

    That being said I doubt it will change the attitude of those who hold the perverted view that somehow it is the victim-makers who are being “shafted” by those who express the opinion that the whole dirty little secret deal is evidence of a “dirty peace”, as Mark Durkan put it.

    A “dirty peace” is no peace at all.

  • IanR

    You’ve missed the point. There’s no mention of a ‘two-year stretch’ in the Good Friday Agreement. It just says that there’ll be a general release date which happens to fall two years after the date when the release scheme commenced.

  • Charles_Gould
  • It might be worth noting this extract from a 2005 cable from the US Dublin Embassy:

    On a close-hold basis, Brendan Scannell, Director of the Northern Ireland office, indicated that the UK and Ireland would move in tandem to deal with “on the runs” (OTRs) once the acts of completion have been achieved. He said no new laws were needed but rather the government planned to publish a “scheme,” probably in November, for dealing with the issue. He said an eligibility body would be established to deal with “qualifying persons.”
    Presumably that announcement didn’t take place but the “scheme” sounds very similar to what did happen, and the Irish Government seems to have had full input into it up to that point.

  • IrelandNorth

    Reference to Tony Blair reminds me of Iraq and Afghanistan. What with US SoS Kerry and UK/GBs Min for Foreign Affairs Haig remonstrating with President Putin of the Russian Federation (RF) for his country’s incursion of the Crimean region of the Ukraine. If invading other people’s countries was19th century vintage diplomacy, how does one justify doing likewise in the 20th and 21 st centuries. Are wrongs not perennial and therefore retroactively prosecutable. And how does one explain SoS Kerry reading a joint statement in Paris on behalf of the US and the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and N Ireland” (sic). What makes the partition of the Crimea from the Uk raine any more acceptable than the partition of N Ireland from the rest of Ireland (ROI). And how can Ireland (ROI/NI) possibly have a mutual respectful relationship with GB (Scotland/Wales/England), while such constitutional convolution continues.