#OTRs: a ready made exit strategy?

So the review of the OTR scheme by a British judge has found it to be ‘not unlawful’ and not secret (pretty much how Dominic Grieve, British Attorney General, had described it before the review). Earlier on today Secretary of State Theresa Villiers made an oral statement to the House of Commons to coincide with the release of the report.

The report itself is quite substantial and I’d not expect too much informed reaction to the details, beyond the executive summary, for a while. One section that will be of interest will be Appendix 9 which details a timeline of relevant material in the public domain including press and Hansard extracts. The report doesn’t contain a list of names of those said to have received letters as part of the scheme. Whether it then passes the Robinson test as a resigning matter, isn’t clear. When the review was announced, he withdrew a threat to resign on the grounds that:

“I do not intend to resign, on the basis that if you get what you want why on earth would you want to resign”

So, given the report doesn’t find the scheme either unlawful or secret, is that what Peter Robinson wants?

At the weekend, the Sunday World was speculating that he was about to be pushed, rather than resign, a claim denied by his purported successor-in-waiting Sammy Wilson. Now, he is likely to face more pressure over the outcome of the review. All the while, with that Assembly Report hanging over his head.

So, will the Hallett report be an opportunistic exit strategy with some faux moral high ground to resign over?

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  • MainlandUlsterman

    What a perplexing report – so it *was* kept secret but it wasn’t “secret” … um … the government gave misleading answers about it when challenged in Parliament yet somehow this isn’t illegal …

  • Morpheus

    Would anyone notice if he left tomorrow John? He has proven time and time again that he is a spineless coward and no more leads the DUP or unionism than I do. As long as they can read an OO statement and publically show they are subservient to the Grand Master then it doesn’t matter if it’s Donaldson, Wilson, Poots or Foster

  • Jude42

    The whole ‘I’ll-resign-if-youse-don’t-do-what-I-say’ routine was to show that he was a champion of unionism/anti-republicanism and no push-over, thus garnering backwoods votes for next year. The dream was that the Hallett report would condemn ‘secret’ deals with republicanism and publicly kick Sinn Féin’s backside. Now poor Peter finds himself in a weaker position than when he started. Was that the distant rumble of a tumbril I heard?

  • Michael Henry

    Big Ian stood smiling with Martin-he got the boot-
    Peter Punt stood smiling with Martin- he is about to get the boot-
    will DUP leader mark 3 stand smiling with Martin-or will we be back to Never Never Never-three stokes and they are out-

  • John Ó Néill

    Back in 2006, Robinson claimed he secured 100 side deals. Imagine he was confronted with revealing them now to confirm their lawfulness and so there were no ‘secrets’?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Robinson replaced by Sammy Wilson…well small steps for the DUP. They should bite the bullet and appoint Arlene. Less comedic effect than the boy Sammy. A bit more polished. I’d feel sorry for Pete if he wasn’t such a spineless, sad twat. DUP kept in the dark by HMG on the subject of OTR’s – them that made any difference knew the score, Pete and his cronies were just an aside in the great scheme.

  • John Ó Néill

    I think they would. The two reasons Robinson has stayed in power this long is that he is a political animal and there is no obvious successor. Just look at the problems the UUP and SDLP have had in finding someone to lead them. To that extent his *problems* have been glossed over and tolerated by other unionists. There are good reasons why Donaldson won’t be leader, Poots is too out there even for the DUP. Wilson’s main selling point over Foster is that he is an MP.

  • MainlandUlsterman


    You inadvertently hit the problem: “them that made any difference knew the score”. So not the people then? Or victims? You may think the peace process is a stitch up between the government and terrorists to give both an easy life – but that won’t wash any more. The victims and also the non-violent majority are sick of being treated like this. We could wear some messy compromise in 1998 – but now things like this make us feel like we didn’t get to vote on the real deal. That’s another reason why it’s so serious – it undermines the legitimacy of the 1998 vote. It’s also completely against the spirit of the peace process. How many unionists would have voted yes if we’d been told OTRs would be dealt with like this?

    The implications of today’s report are actually devastating, if they are followed through logically. Just to remind ourselves, she’s found that the government did a private deal with SF over hundreds of murder prosecutions without consulting, without putting safeguards in place and then deliberately hid it from the view of elected politicians – and then failed to provide anyone who would acknowledge accountability for these serious breaches of British democracy and justice.

    This isn’t a unionist issue, this is a big deal for all of us. Are people really happy to have justice administered like this? Reading some of the comments, you’d think the DUP was responsible for it. Take the blinkers off – this affects all of us.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Mainland – you genuinely think that the “people” were given open book to the discussions, compromises, stitch ups that went on. If you didn’t suspect that these sorts of deals weren’t being cut then you are naive or disingenuous. I don’t mean to insult your intelligence but what did you think was on offer to get the terrorists to come to the negotiating table and retire the guns. My issue with the DUP is that they never gave a damn about their victims, and I’d bold type “their” if I could work out how to do it on this darned iPad. They were either incompetent in not knowing or they are liars. My guess is the answer lies somewhere in the middle. The hand has been played and I weep for all the victims whatever their circumstances. Unionism dreams of what Ulster used to be and can’t move on. The world has forgotten, in truth.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Of course we suspected deals were being cut. The point is we weren’t told about them – even when MPs asked ministers directly in parliament. Being deceived does not make you incompetent or a liar, surely? Unless you’re into blaming victims of wrongdoing rather than the perpetrators …

    I don’t know what unionism dreams of, or how that’s relevant, but we are all entitled to the truth from our government.

    Finally, you seem to see this as a unionist issue – why? Is that because the OTRs had been mainly trying to kill us? I think that isn’t fair, as many moderate nationalists were and are equally opposed to the IRA, equally likely to be “targeted” by them and equally keen to see them face justice.

  • mickfealty

    I’ve recently spent time looking up Slugger’s #Irisgate stories (in part because Dec had suggested we had ignored the story, we hadn’t), but it gave me a chance to re-read the crack at the time…

    One interesting line of speculation was the idea that he might be leaving politics, imminently. It’s something I bought into myself.

    It was also interesting because it was being talked about before Irisgate actually broke. As it turns out, he wasn’t.

    Or if he had been at times during that crisis, then he decided against it.


    ‘Spineless coward.” You are determined to do pirouettes on thin ice are you? I don’t have the luxury of red cards on this platform I’m afraid. If you go on the blacklist, you’ll have to stay there I’m afraid.

  • fordprefect

    Well, it’s deja vu all over again, eh. I’m sick sore and tired predicting things that come true in this place (pity I couldn’t have did the same in the World Cup!). Not a chance of Robinson resigning, now, he said he would resign if the “comfort letters” weren’t rescinded (I said he wouldn’t), they have not been rescinded and they’re not going to be either, Robinson, it’s over to you.

  • Zeno

    “Of course we suspected deals were being cut. The point is we weren’t told about them -”

    I’d say there is a lot of “stuff” that goes on in Government that we are not told about. The 30 Year Rule appears to have been designed specifically so they did not have to tell us everything at the time. The Government can also withhold information requested under FOI if they issue an exemption. “In some cases, even confirming that information is or is not held may be sensitive. In these cases, you may be able to give a ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (NCND) response.”

    Any idea that we have open government should be binned.

  • Zeno

    “I’d feel sorry for Pete if he wasn’t such a spineless, sad twat.”

    What makes you think that? What do you think he should be doing? Coincidently this was addressed on the radio earlier when someone said ………. “It’s not like he can say, I’ve just had a meeting with Sinn Fein lads and all those flags will have to come down”
    His hands are tied and he is very good at what he does. (staying in power) Like the rest it’s a pity that what he does best is of no benefit to the rest of us.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Of course not everything in government has to be done in the full public glare. But when the government denies outright in answer to an MP’s question that it is doing something – as Peter Hain did in 2007 – and the only reason for the denial is not national security but the fact that the policy would be opposed if people knew about it – surely that’s a different matter? Not asking for open government here, just a basic level of honesty and fairness.

    This is so clearly a cover-up, as Hallett LJ showed in her report, I wonder why some on the nationalist side usually all for openness and accountability – I’m not saying you necessarily – are now coming across all George Smiley? 😉

  • MainlandUlsterman

    He should resign

  • Sergiogiorgio

    He’s the first Minister of Northern Ireland and provides absolutely no leadership to his electorate. He is our primary representative overseas and all he is capable of is walking out of talks, threatening to resign every other month, heightening tensions etc. He is supposed to work for a better future but he is fixated on the past to the detriment of us all. I’ll avoid the other stuff with his missus and contractor back handers. I reckon my description was entirely accurate.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    “Entitled to the truth from our government” – oh do come on Mainland. Like Iraq, rendition etc. You need to read my post more closely. I don’t try and badge the victims. Its a shit state of affairs but stop with the feigned rage. We were not told of the “deal”, the DUP knew the score, or were incompetent if they didn’t. The DUP playing the victim card is sickening. What’s your solution? Do you genuinely think these OTR’s will ever be prosecuted? Move on.

  • Zeno

    He is restricted in what he can do and say, in the sense that if he rolls over for SF he will lose his seat. They are all supposed to work for a better future and will claim to be doing that, but their actions say different. SF are just as bad, trying to remove the flag from City Hall and organising contentious parades is hardly the stuff of shared future. It’s basically eye poke politics.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Here’s the key para from the Hallett Report on whether the DUP, UUP, Alliance or SDLP knew or should have known:
    “8.34 I have found no evidence, therefore, of political parties in Northern Ireland other than Sinn Féin being informed of the specific issue of the administrative scheme for OTRs.”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Here’s what the judge found:
    “8.34 I have found no evidence, therefore, of political parties in Northern Ireland other than Sinn Féin being informed of the specific issue of the administrative scheme for OTRs.”

    So it seems they weren’t incompetent after all.
    And less of the “feigned rage” jibes – take it from me I am f***ing seething about this

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Sorry Zeno but it isn’t. The removal of the flag was a democratic vote. Similarly contentious parades are democratically legislated by the Parades commission. Notice the democracy bit throughout. I’d never be an advocate for SF, but the DUP and their current leader are incompetent bigots. They have no interest in engaging with anyone that disagrees with their position and democracy be damned. Their priority is to play to the lowest of the low in their electoral mandate. Compare the achievements of Ian Paisley with that of Peter Robinson. Robinson has offered nothing to this country and he should hang his head in shame. He’s an embarrassment to northern Ireland and, to my mind, a rather sad individual, that garners little pity.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    On what the Police Board was told (8.47 of the report):

    “It appears that the level of briefing to the Policing Board as a whole, and that which was recorded, was minimal.”

    On what journalists knew and reported:

    “8.51 A number of journalists showed a modest appreciation of the existence and nature of the administrative scheme throughout its life but did not refer to the process as ‘the administrative scheme’ …

    8.53 The precise mechanics of the scheme, including the sending of letters of assurance, appear not to have been reported, even if journalists have subsequently rediscovered clues as to their existence.”

  • Zeno

    ” I wonder why some on the nationalist side usually all for openness and accountability – I’m not saying you necessarily – are now coming across all George Smiley? ;-)”

    I’m not a Nationalist. I’m against UI for economic and security reasons. I’m not a Unionist either. I don’t have any loyalty to the Crown and don’t think the OO should be able to walk where they want. So that makes me Neither, like around 45% of the population.
    We are agreed that the government don’t tell us everything. There letters are different because an awful lot of people knew about them. The DUP knew, but they didn’t want to know in an official sense, if you know what I mean. They were afraid that they would be seen as an amnesty for certain IRA Men and since SF had been forced into rejecting amnesty by the SDLP and Victims in 2005 because it would have included the Security Forces it meant the DUP couldn’t officially condone this. They basically turned a blind eye.

  • Morpheus

    Copy the 30 pages of evidence that show it was very much in the public domain

  • MainlandUlsterman

    On the 30 pages of material Morpheus referred to that was in the public domain:

    “8.41 A selection of the most pertinent references to the administrative scheme in the public domain is found at Appendix 9 … In considering what information was available to the general public, I should emphasise that it is far easier to put together the “pieces of the jigsaw” (as Nigel Dodds MP described them following the R v John Downey ruling) with the considerable benefit of hindsight.”

    The picture we build is that the material was out there in dribs and drabs but it would have taken a determined Woodward and Bernstein to piece it all together, before the Downey bombshell. Meanwhile, when questioned directly, Hain put NI politicians off the scent by saying there was no scheme.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    No jibe intended MU – apologies. As Spock said “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few….”. This was a price worth paying and what we pay our politicians to do in reaching consensus. It is and was a dirty deal, but its being used, disingenuously, I believe by the DUP, as a political football,with the victims being hung out to dry get again.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The DUP may well make political capital out of it but it seems they are entitled to. I’m closer to Alliance than any of the other parties, so you don’t have to be DUP to be angry today.
    Reading the report and not just the summary is enlightening. There’s a definite sense that in the detail of the report, she’s pretty scathing. But when she pulls back and summarises, the tone is quite different and effectively lets everyone off the hook she seemed to have them on. I’m sure there wasn’t any political interference but I wonder if the judge just had a bit of “don’t rock the boat too much” going on at the back of her mind when it came to the “take-outs”. So it does come across as slightly twisting around herself at times.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    See para 8.41, quoted in my most recent post on this thread. She says it was all out there but not at all easy to piece together what was actually happening in detail. You can blame politicians for not asking the questions, but it seems they did (Robinson 2006, Hermon 2007) and were given very misleading answers.

  • Morpheus

    It doesn’t take either Woodward or Bernstein to understand comments like this:

    ““This issue is difficult for the British Government as Members will be aware from comments made in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. There are two options for dealing with the OTRs. There is an administrative procedure which the British Government can follow, but it is quite lengthy.

    “It involves checking each case through the administrations of justice and policing Northern Ireland to ascertain the status of the case and whether it can be cleared. The other option is legislation.

    “It is probably likely that the British Government will continue to use the administrative system; I do not anticipate it introducing legislation in the short-term.

    “The Prime Minister Mr Blair reiterated to me in Barcelona on Saturday that it was his intention to honour his commitment irrespective of which way he chooses to deal with it.””

    Bertie Ahern – 2002

    Now is that a piece of the jigsaw or the whole jigsaw?

    Not convinced?

    What about this from Chris Thornton at The Belfast Telegraph from June 2007:

    “Another 84 OTRs – the initials stand for on the runs – have already been cleared to return to Northern Ireland without facing jail time, according to statistics released to the Belfast Telegraph by the Attorney General’s office.

    That includes almost 50 people who spent at least a decade on the run but who were never wanted in the first place.

    Material released under the Freedom of Information Act shows the number of OTRs is far higher than previous estimates.

    The names of almost 200 people have been passed to the Government by Sinn Fein over the past seven years, while London wrestled with mechanisms to allow them to return.

    The most recent list was passed last September – a month before the DUP declared it had killed off the issue.

    During the eight years that OTRs have been a political issue, one fugitive has been recaptured. Michael Rogan stood trial for bombing Thiepval Barracks and was cleared in 2005.

    Of the 193 other people whose cases have been considered, 84 have been told they are free to return without fear of arrest.

    Forty-seven have spent at least the last decade thinking they were being sought by police, but the Attorney General said checks have shown they were not wanted by any police force in the UK.

    Outstanding warrants were dropped in 15 cases when the Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was not a sufficient case to bring to court.

    Another 22 had already been convicted: 11 of them – mainly Maze escapees – had served the two years in prison necessary to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement.

    The other 11 – including escapees from the Crumlin Road jail who were sentenced but did not serve time – were freed under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

    Currently, 75 people remain wanted, and they form a sticky political wicket for the Government.

    Prime Minister Tony Blair had promised Sinn Fein he would allow the fugitives to return, but attempts at legislation have twice run into the sand.

    Sinn Fein says there is an anomaly that needs to be resolved, but the DUP says the Government has killed off the issue and there will be no further moves to allow OTRs to return.

    There have been suggestions that the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, could drop their cases in the public interest.

    But the legal authorities have resisted that suggestion, with Lord Goldsmith declaring that the offences concerned are too serious to be dropped.

    Of the 75 people who remain wanted, eight are wanted for return to prison, meaning they have not served sufficient sentences for an Agreement release.

    Another 46 are wanted for questioning by police and 21 are wanted to face trial.

    Another 34 cases are still being reviewed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

    Previous published estimates of the number of OTR cases put them far lower than the 194 now confirmed by the Government.

    Between 60 and 80 names were thought to have been put forward by Sinn Fein, although some republicans accurately forecast 200 names at an early stage of the process.

    The Northern Ireland Office said it accepts that the issue of OTRs will have to be dealt with at some stage.

    A spokesman said: The Government’s position on OTRs remains the same: we accept that OTRs are in an anomalous position and the issue will need to be addressed at some stage, but we have no plans for legislation or amnesties.

    That’s not the DUP’s understanding. Last year, it declared that this matter is put to rest once and for all.

    DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said at the time: The Prime Minister has made it clear that there is going to be no amnesty for IRA terrorists on the run.

    Neither will it be done by reintroducing the deeply offensive legislation or by some kind of back door deal.

    Sinn Fein once indicated that Tony Blair would deal with the issue before leaving office, but that now looks unlikely.

    The Attorney General’s office refused to disclose the names of those individuals who are wanted, saying it could cut the chance of them being caught.

    The Belfast Telegraph will appeal that decision on the basis that details of the case have been given to third parties, and presumably those individuals know they are on the wanted list.”

    How’s THAT for a piece of the jigsaw?

  • Morpheus

    Again, see the very, very detailed report from The Belfast Telegraph from June 2007. There was absolutley no need to piece anything together

  • MainlandUlsterman

    the judge disagrees with you

  • MainlandUlsterman

    As the judge says, lots about the generality of the OTR issue, but few specific of how it worked, in particular the letters – and where they do come, they are not from the sources you would look to for definitive information i.e. the govt and police. And remember, the govt has admitted to deliberately not telling NI politicians and a judge has also found that.

  • Morpheus

    Westminster is where they go when they are being put out to pasture so I wouldn’t really call that a selling point for Sammy Wilson John, plus he has the whole failed teacher thing going on so I can’t see him doing a good statesman job when it comes to Obama and other world leaders.

    Plus there’s always the Ali-G thing 🙂

    I think if Foster can get rid of the God-awful way she has of conducting herself in interviews she is a definite contender. The tutting and rolling of the eyes at every sentence tell me me that she struggles to maintain control and offer common courtesy – she is extremely articulate and can destroy anything SF has to offer without resorting to that. The key question is if she will simply bend to the will of the OO even though the vast majority of the Protestant community are not members and are leaving in their droves.

  • Morpheus

    Generality about the OTR scheme? Oh come on MU, the reporter was able to give exact numbers of how many requests were made, how many were wanted for questioning, how many weren’t wanted, how many were still under review by the DPP and so on. All with a simple FOI request and published in a national newspaper for all to read. If it was supposed to be the hush-hush uber-secret ‘don’t tell anyone’ scheme the DUP would have us believe then why did they release such detailed information?

    And that was in 2007, Bertie’s comments were from 5 years previous. Brian Rowan has released similar stuff when he worked for the BBC even earlier again. It was there but, as Jonathan Powell confirmed, the DUP knew it was going ahead as long as it could be placed at the feet of David Trimble.

    The letters themselves are a complete non-issue – they are simply the means of confirming if they were wanted or not. If not a letter how would you suggest they were notified? Email? Telephone? Would either of these been less controversial for you?

  • Francis

    No issue with legitimate criticisms of politicians on any side. However sorry but the veneer of the vote being democratic on Flags begins to crack when you properly investigate the redrawing of the electoral boundaries in Belfast CC (interesting topic that one). If you are truly for democracy perhaps you will agree that such a key issue should go to a referendum.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Sorry Francis but I’ve no idea what you are talking about.

  • Morpheus

    The changing of the flag flying policy at Belfast City Hall to bring it into line with the rest of the UK and the recommendations of the College of Arms should go to referendum?


  • Morpheus
  • Zeno

    “Sorry Zeno but it isn’t. The removal of the flag was a democratic vote.”

    No one said it wasn’t but it’s hardly the point. The attempt to remove the flag completely was hardly an effort to build a shared future with your enemies. Was it? Organising parades for bombers and murderers is not exactly how to make friends or reach out, Is it?

    “Compare the achievements of Ian Paisley with that of Peter Robinson.”

    Ian Paisley basically sold out when he was offered the First Minister Job. It went from NEVER NEVER NEVER to ah go on then when he saw the power. It looked like he would have gone into government with the devil himself to get what he wanted.

    I think you miss the point on Robinson. He has a mandate (democracy) if he rolls over for Sinn Fein he will lose it. What would you be doing in his position?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    I’d be at the table talking as opposed to continually turning my back to the discussion. Paisley, for all his faults, was one on the main engineers in bringing to an end the 1000’s of murders that used to occur. I reckon Robinson and his ilk would happily return to those days just so he could say “I told you so”. Sometimes politicians have to lead for the greater good. Avoid the whataboutery – the current impasse and lack of any progress sits full square with Unionism and their “leaders” – ha, ha.

  • Zeno

    “Paisley, for all his faults, was one on the main engineers in bringing to an end the 1000’s of murders that used to occur.”

    That would be worthy of credit if he hadn’t been one of the main causes of the 1000’s of murders.

    You must be very young Sergio, and I don’t mean that as an insult.

    “Hearing that an Italian ice-cream parlour had opened on Belfast’s Shankill Road, he addressed a local meeting. ‘You people of the Shankill Road, what’s wrong with you? Number 425 Shankill Road – do you know who lives there? Pope’s men, that’s who] Forte’s ice-cream shop] Italian Papists on the Shankill Road]’

  • Sergiogiorgio

    I’m 43 Zeno, brought up as a Catholic and sent to a Protestant primary school in a small town that was 99% Protestant, so I’ll take no lessons in being treated like a second class citizen from you. Paisley saw the error of his ways and eventually went to work for the good of all, it just took him a long time to get there. Robinson is a dyed in the wool bigot and has no interest in progressing matters in NI. As I said above I believe he reminisces of the bad old days. At least then Unionism could take the high moral ground. Now the only people the DUP “represent” are Loyalist thugs.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Zeno – I attempted a reply here but it seems to be in moderation by Slugger. I’ve no idea why unless the DUPs paranoia extends to this message board and Slugger is just another unionist patsy.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Hey as it looks like I’m not being pre moderated I’ll repost it. Zeno – I’m a 43 year old raised as a Catholic in a 98% Protestant town/village and sent to the local Protestant primary school so you’ll forgive me if I won’t be told who’s a bigot and who isn’t. Being a 5 year and being called a “Fenian bastard” by your some of your own class mates leaves a mark. Paisley was a construct of his generation and he finally recognised his mistakes. Robinson is a man that harks back to the days of Protestant domination and doesn’t have the intelligence nor the nouce to see what the future holds. He plays to the rump of a rump, and is currently marching to the drums of a bigoted Loyalist Belfast minority. He offers nothing to greater Northern Irish good, neither Protestant nor Catholic and I detest the man. I’m embarrassed he represents NI when overseas.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Every time I mention Robinson I’m being moderated – WTF? Is Slugger in a DUP pocket?

  • Zeno

    Sorry to hear that Sergio, I was enjoying our chat.