Tony Blair: Believed OTR Letters were essential in getting Sinn Fein on board and left to DUP there would’ve been no peace process

Tony Blair stepped up to the On The Runs Committee today to give evidence about the now infamous letters issued partly under his administration.

Between the hard questioning led by Naomi Long and Ian Paisley Jnr, the most important pieces of information throughout the entire day came from a slightly softer approach adopted by Sylvia Hermon and Alasdair McDonnell.

Blair told MPs that there was a point in December 2006 where he believed that they almost lost the entire peace process. He at times looked in near amazement as MPs told him about their total lack of knowledge about the scheme.

Blair argued that the letters where “essential” in getting Sinn Fein on board. He admitted that a mistake had been made in the issuance of a letter to John Downey but was not prepared to apologise for attempting to find a solution.

In the latter stages of the committee Blair used the somewhat toxic line of “drawing a line” which he described as the hardest part of any peace process. Yet, he issued what would become a constant refrain that his ultimate aim was stopping any future violence from happening again in Northern Ireland.

As the committee pressed on Blair became more bullish, even going as far as challenging parts of the Secretary of State’s response to the OTR issue. Like a session of Prime Minister’s questions, he successfully steered his way around controversial topics such as contact members of his staff had with republican figures like Rita O’Hare.  But Blair just seemed to let this wash over him, by refusing any detailed comments and called O’Hare an advocate for the peace process.

As the session ended, Ian Paisley Jnr went in for a second go, but just came up against remarkable retort from Blair that had it been down to the DUP there would never have been a peace process.

Overall, it was at times a slightly uncomfortable thing to watch as you remembered many families were sitting behind Blair. Out of all the MPs, McDonnell and Hermon did the best in terms of  information, the combative approach from others just didn’t work.

For Blair, he came out of it no worse than when he went in. You can tell that he is proud of his Northern Ireland record and is prepared to defend it to the hilt.

You can find more detail on the BBC News site




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  • Dan

    He might have kept the process going by buying off Sinn Fein but he and they deceived the people…and that trust wont be back anytime soon

  • Two things: (i) Was it not the case that the authorities did not have a case they could make against the people they sent letters to? I.e. in law they were innocent? (ii) Compare the furore over the OTR letters and the lack of furore over the many members of the ‘security’ forces who killed with impunity. Any chance of their being grilled?

  • chrisjones2

    It complete nonsense to suggest that if he hadn’t done this the processes would have collapsed. Blair was played like a fiddle

  • kensei

    Maybe it’d not have lead to an immediate resumption of violence. But if the chain was OTRs, Policing, Assembly then no OTR solution, no Assembly restored and we have a dangerous political vacuum.

    It astonishes me that people are so complacent over the stability of the place when a decision on a flag caused complete chaos.

  • mickfealty


    Absolutely nothing, repeat nothing, is wrong with sending letters to people whom the police weren’t looking for.

    Nothing wrong with it, nothing politically controversial in the least about it. So what exactly then is Tony Blair saying was crucial to the Peace Process™?

    Coz you can have a letter off the cops saying they don’t want you atm any day that ends in ‘y’? Partial disclosure eh, don’t you just love it? 😉

  • Tacapall

    Indeed Jude nor the lack of concern for the amnestry being offered in any new truth commission.

  • mickfealty

    Just to add that even if they’d been arrested and charged they would remain innocent until such times as they were proven otherwise.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Seen elsewhere”I see he still has the honest hands pose”……

  • chrisjones2

    Absolutely. It only makes sense if SF were gaining an advantage

    The situation was too that the principle of sending the letters from the DPP to the individuals had been agreed. What then happened was that the deal was done, it was all suddenly accelerated and letters were sent out en maase by the NIO to Gerry Kelly using their own wording

    ‘It wasn’t secret’ says Blair. People knew something was happening ….we just didn’t tell them exactly what it was. Its wasn’t a conscious policy ….it all just evolved

    Bit like with Wendy then Tony?

  • chrisjones2

    i look forward to Chilcot

  • Stephen

    Both communities swallowed the bitterest of pills in the name of peace in the North of Ireland i.e. the release of prisoners, why is the OTR issue any less palatable.It was necessary to bring peace and end daily murder, that i have no problem with.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    We can but dream……..

  • I would deduce from Blair’s statements that one of two things may explain this. Sinn Féin wanted a deal for those who were likely to be prosecuted. The letters were done to make it appear to SF as though the issue of OTRs as a whole was getting dealt with. Perhaps SF thought that OTRs would be dealt with eventually and so were happy to go along with it. More likely I would think that SF, although initially unhappy with the letters as an overall response, knew that an amnesty for likely to be prosecuted OTRs was never going to happen but they considered the letters to now be beneficial to them and an acceptable way forward.

  • Mick – it pains me to say it but I don’t know what the ending-in-y word is. One of two things: the letters were telling the truth (we don’t have a case against youse) or they were lying (we have a case against youse but we’ll not let on). If the first, I really can’t see what the issue is; if the second, then the PSNI have a lot of questions to answer.

  • mickfealty

    Lying is such an ugly word, we know for sure one of them was wrong: the one Mr Justice Sweeney knocked back and that said former Volunteer was given a home run.

    Now, the same boy is as innocent as you or I, but in that case the cops were clearly thwarted from further action by the judgement.

    Mr Blair is trading off a perception that there were others who similarly benefited. Whether they did or not would require a further trawl through PSNI records.

  • mickfealty

    Ignore the ‘y’ it was a feeble attempt at a lyrical flourish… 😉

  • chrisjones2

    Yes,,,but the deal that was supposed to have been done was that where there was evidence there would be a trial. This helped subvert this

  • hugh mccloy

    And in 2006 more notably every MLA got paid off to establish the Assembly. I don’t think in 2006 that there was any outcome that would of led to a return of violence, a return of violence would take a level of acceptance that neither republicans or loyalists would get while also needing a level of conditioning to install hate hence green orange politcal stigma ever since. All the parties got their ££ sorted and went back into the Assembly in 2007 to introduce Labours 4 stage spending review that was happening since 2000, only the Assembly had 3 years to make 10 years worth of cuts.

    When the public complained, or the issues of cuts were made the standard response was we dont want a return to the old days.

    The only difference now is the media is more open for public involvement instead of day in MLA statements in the national papers nad weekly Councillor statements filling the weekly’s.

  • Morpheus

    I recommend you simply stop talking about this issue because it is blindingly obvious you haven’t got the first clue what you are talking about – you never have. It was very clear in the letters – letters you have been shown countless times – that if any evidence came to light that they would face the full force of the law, the same as anyone else…nothing has been subverted. As you know The Hallett Report shows many examples, have yet ANOTHER look.

  • Morpheus

    Blair played the Shinners like a fiddle back in the day. They were throwing a tantrum and the peace process was in trouble so Blair gave them something that they were legally entitled to anyway. He gave up next to nothing but gained a lot so fair play.

    All these 200+ people have done is put themselves on a PSNI watch list and if evidence surfaces then whammo, they face the courts and prison.

    This was never the smoking gun that many hoped it was. The DUP in particular come out of it with egg all over their face, from Jonathan Powell’s revelation that they knew about it from the off to the faux-outrage Peter Robinson displayed when threatening resignation…again. Even today they were embarrassed, if that is possible, with TB’s comments that had it been down to the DUP there would never have been a peace process. Very ouch.

  • sean treacy

    Hugh ,any chance you could explain what you are raving about?

  • New Yorker

    Did anyone on the committee ask Blair what else was handled in a deceptive manner?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Who’s Hugh, sean?

    And please, you do not want to get me started on “Thatchers greatest achievement”, 3000 bitter words over four postings is just a guesstamate……….

  • kingluther

    collusion and deceit on a massive scale.

  • kalista63

    I think the media, especially the BBC, come out of this with egg on their face as they fed this non issue whilst journos like Eamonn Mallie and Brian Rowen were posting links to articles they did at the time about OTRs.

    At the time, we were looking forward to a post conflict scenario, often a S African style one was mentioned, and that would have required vastly more challenging evolution of which the OWC mentality was incapable of grasping.

  • kalista63

    As I said above, the media played its part in blowing this story up rather than telling the outraged to cool their jets, as someone says.

  • sean treacy

    I think you will find Hugh posted approx 7 postings above your latest cryptic musings.

  • barnshee

    The filthy turn up with a brass neck -a slimy toe rag slithers and squirms
    How the victims kept theirs hands off him is a mystery

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Ah, sean, but Hugh will never see, let alone respond, to it unless you press the “reply” tag under his comment and write in that box!!!!!!

    After a perusal to see if I can answer for Hugh, I find I’m just as confused. Back to my shot glass of the thirty year quality Lagavulin now, and the hopes of growing delerium to oil my own late night “cryptic musings”………

  • tmitch57

    “You can tell that he is proud of his Northern Ireland record and is prepared to defend it to the hilt.”

    I appreciated reading your impressions of the questioning. One thing that has always saddened me is that Blair has never received any recognition from the British public for his accomplishment of successfully negotiating a peace agreement and then working for years after that to stabilize the situation. I understand why he might not get much recognition from the population in NI for his accomplishment–both sides think that the other side got too much that they didn’t deserve. But Blair successfully ended a quarter-century old plus conflict that was a drain on the Exchequer and a drag on Britain’s international reputation. I think he made many mistakes in his negotiating strategy that unnecessarily prolonged the peace process, but his energy and time invested in the effort more than made up for this in the end. In the United States Jimmy Carter was given credit for mediating the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979 even if it did not help him at the polls the following year. Maybe in time Blair will receive similar recognition, at least from his own political party. I would also like to see John Major receive more recognition for his role in starting the peace process in partnership with Reynolds.

    I think it is also understandable that Blair defends his record in NI so vigorously, not only was it a major accomplishment but other than winning elections he has little else to brag about.

  • Gopher

    Another lamentable performance by our politcains the failure to understand that the only thing Tony Blair does is for Tony Blair and destroy him on that inalienable fact meant they let the egomaniac big himself up. You get Blair before a commitee and you attack OTR letters asking for apologies, thick as ****. FFS he went home chanting “Easy, Easy, Easy”!

  • mickfealty

    Can you at least try to play the ball Morph? It’s a reasonable conjecture, and he’s entitled to infer it from Blair’s own presentation alone.

    As for your counterpoint (once you get round to making it), Hallett did not review the individual cases (that would have been impractical) so the truth is we don’t know.

  • Morpheus

    I apologize Mick but it is not a reasonable conjecture, it is the opposite of a reasonable conjecture because everything that has been published by credible sources has pointed to the fact that if any evidence comes to light then the recipients of these letters will be treated as any other member of the public. Due process has not been subverted no matter what he says or how many times he repeats it on multiple threads. He has seen what the SoS said was in the letters, he has seen redacted versions of the actual letters, he has heard the SoS confirm that the letters were not amnesty or GOOJF cards yet he persists, what more does it take?

  • chrisjones2

    “new” evidence came to light ….if there was existing evidence that predated the letters they serve as a Get Out Of Gaol Free Card

    Stop trying to browbeat anyone who disagrees with you

    Yous, still ticking

  • chrisjones2

    Mick…leave it ..I am very cool ..we are both obsessionally disagree on this one issue – though we actually agree on many others. I hope we can be that way in a friendly and open spirit

  • chrisjones2

    I know you believe that I disagree with your assessment….see above.

    Time will tell if another case comes to light where an OTR letter is an issue and the Judge decides. I suspect that will never happen because the Government will move heaven and earth to ensure that it never gets that far and prosecutors take ‘independent ‘ decisions that reflect ‘ the public interest’.

    The bottom line is simple. The community and victims and parliament were told one thing while a ‘not secret but we didn’t tell anybody’ other thing was done under cover. You say that was OK. I say it was a dirty little underhand side deal. We have different views but I suggest we just respect each others positions and leave it at that

    PS When you are relying on the assurances of the SOS for your argument you are losing the argument. You will tell me next that you think Tony Blair is a pretty straight sort of guy

  • Morpheus

    You are clutching at very tiny straws. Read the Ministerial Statement, look at the available actual letters, look at the coverage in the media, look at the numerous threads on here…the recipients are in absolutely no doubt that if sufficient evidence is there for prosecution they will be prosecuted. As it should be. I seriously can’t understand why you have difficulty getting that.

    You have never answered, if you believe the letters have been changed to say that people who were not wanted when they actually were then what is that assertion based on? Can you name the recipient? Can you show the before/after letters which have convinced you that the status has been changed?

  • Morpheus

    We’ll know if any more mistakes were made when the review is complete.

    If you are relying on unfounded conspiracy theories with no supporting evidence then you are not only losing the argument but you don’t have one.

  • Neil

    The secret letters weren’t secret. The get out of jail free cards weren’t get out of jail free cards. He probably did go home chanting “easy”, after all with the plethora of evidence available to substantiate the lack of secrecy and the content of the letters, it was probably the easiest questioning the man has ever endured.

    “Was it secret?”
    “No, look here, here and here. If it was secret it was a secret which was reported on in the media, discussed in parliament and features in a book.”
    “Were they get out of jail free cards?”
    “Have you not seen them?”

  • eiregain

    How is this a foul ref?

    Asking a man to backup his assertions, suspicions and predictions in reality and fact is debate, No?

  • Morpheus

    To be fair, I did go in with my studs showing and I apologized.

  • eiregain

    I’ve seen much worse tackles, get shrugged off.
    Chris seemed to be fine, just watch out for the returned challenge, might have some sting.

  • Morpheus

    I doubt it but thanks for the concern 🙂

  • chrisjones2

    Do try and keep perspective old chap. I am reading the same evidence as you but interpreting it differently. That is acceptable in civilized society

    I haven’t alleged conspiracy. I have alleged that the Government ignored and circumvented the will of Parliament and corporately deceived the public and victims. If they had to do that deal and had done it openly and honestly then fine. But it and lots of other little side deals were done secretly – the hawlmark of that sleazy Labour administration

    And do be cynical when you see what Government tells you. Tony wont always tell you the truth you know

  • chrisjones2

    No…I am being reasonable ….we just don’t agree on the interpretation of teh evdience ….as with historians who still disagree over Waterloo

  • Morpheus

    If it was just TB then fair enough but when it’s multiple politicians, multiple police officers at various levels of command, multiple journalists, both governments, the Prison service, multiple independent sources etc etc. then the scales start to tip a little to one side towards the truth, wouldn’t you agree? When I start basing my opinion on rumor, conjecture and ‘some guy down the pub told me…’ then I would worry.

    How’s that for perspective?

    How exactly did the Government ignore and circumvent the will of parliament? You do realize that this was an admin scheme approved by the highest levels of government, the attorney general etc, right?

    As for victims, not that you care, then what victims are you talking about? Should the police have contacted them and said: “This is the PSNI, we are just calling to confirm that we have informed people that they were not wanted for questioning in relation to any crimes”? Is that what you expected?

    But you are right, victims were unfairly used, abused and traumatized….by those who used this subject for selfish reasons and political gain. Those who started talking about GOOJF cards and amnesty, knowing full well that they weren’t, owe a massive apology to the victims. Do you think they will get it?

  • barnshee

    ” many members of the ‘security’ forces who killed with impunity.”

    I suggest you look at the facts

    Tell me how many deaths occurred where “many members of the ‘security’ forces .. killed with impunity.”

    Facts don`t you jut hate them

  • Morpheus

    No, we’re seriously not. I am looking at Waterloo and using testimony from those who were involved, what was reported in the press etc. and coming to a reasonable conclusion. You are…well I don’t know what you are doing if I am honest

  • Barneyt

    I concur with Stephen. The OTR case was always going to be about conflict resolution and was always going to be a concession to Sinn Fein. SF would have been remiss not to call for this, as they would surely argue that had it not been for circumstances, many would not have been drawn into the conflict.

    If we can agree that prisoners can be released, both republicans and loyalists, we can surely accept that those that would normally be pursued or incarcerated for lesserssimilar “crimes” could be exempt. It matter little to me that letters reached the wrong individuals, as the basis remains the same. There was a conflict, we were aiming for peace and to draw the IRA (and others) into a peace process. It is logical that the “heat” is called off on both sides to achieve this, as painful as it might be

  • IRF

    In the case of Gerry McGeough/Sammy Brush there WAS existing evidence that predated the OTR Letters process, which is precisely why McGeough DIDN’T receive a ‘letter of comfort’ and therefore he failed in his attempt to use the process to Get Out Of Gaol. How does the fact that McGeough ended up serving two years in prison fit with your conspiracy theory chrisjones2??

  • chrisjones2

    Look….we disagree. I am also looking at Waterloo and using testimony from those who were involved, what was reported in the press etc. and coming to a reasonable conclusion. We are just applying different perspectives to nit and different knowledge / understanding of the processes and actors involved. Both of us seem rational and responsible so lets just disagree and not fall out!!!

  • IRF

    The problem is that the established facts directly contradict the conclusion you draw (see my comments further up about the McGeough/Brush case).

  • chrisjones2

    ‘the established facts’ ….you mean the official version? the testimony in Parliament? Hallet?

    There are few facts – only evidence and opinion

    But I have just seen your posts elsewhere where you try to ridicule me. I wont descend to that level. I have tried to be reasonable fut frankly you have lost it so this conversation is at an end. I urge you to calm down

  • mickfealty

    I don’t disagree. Magic paper to bolster the confidence of the faithful as their faith was shaken is my best guess.

  • Love that flourish, Mick 🙂 . Bur if TB is trading off a perception that others similarly benefited, isn’t that equivalent to supporting the notion that the PSNI lied? That seems to me ridiculous, not to say outrageous. Whatever amnesty-style arrangements are arrived at for people who have been involved in violence, there must surely be a better way than the guardians of the peace putting in writing lies. Alternatively, as I say, they may have been telling the truth (a much less appalling vista) in which case what’s all the brouhaha about?

  • IRF

    Are you sure you are referring to me cj2? I don’t recall ever conversing with you at all, let alone “trying to ridicule” you.
    Anyway, consider the facts of the following four cases, which cover four different scenarios/outcomes:
    (1) Rita O’Hare – earlier evidence does/did exist sufficient to mount a prosecution – therefore no ‘letter of comfort’ issued – Outcome: no prosecution, but only because O’Hare hasn’t dared to re-enter the jurisdiction;
    (2) Gerry McGeough – earlier evidence does/did exist sufficient to mount a prosecution – therefore no ‘letter of comfort’ issued – Outcome:successful prosecution and McGeough served two years prison sentence in accordance with GFA;
    (3) Seamus Kearney – new evidence brought to light by HET (DNA on cigarette butt found at a murder scene) – I’m not sure whether or not a ‘letter of comfort’ had previously been issued to Kearney but it’s not really relevant as the letters contained a caveat covering ‘new evidence’ (although ironically, if he had earlier requested such a letter then this fact may have helped to put his name in the frame once the new evidence emerged!!) – Outcome: successful prosecution and Kearney is serving two years prison sentence in accordance with GFA;
    (4) John Downey – earlier evidence does/did exist sufficient to mount a prosecution – in this case a ‘letter of comfort’ was issued in error – Outcome: trial collapsed and Downey walked free.
    The first three cases all support the official version of how the OTR letters scheme works. Only the latter case could support the case for some kind of conspiracy, and in the absence of a string of other similar cases emerging from the review, surely Hanlon’s Razor kicks in. i.e. cock-up is far more likely than conspiracy!

  • chrisjones2

    “I recommend you simply stop talking about this issue”

    Please do stop bullying.You are very persistent but not that scary

    “multiple …multiple …multiple ”

    I am sorry but now are now just raving.

    Should the police have contacted them …..

    If they had previously been told “the person who murdered your father / mother / child / tried to kill you is on the run but we are still trying to get them back” …..then yes they bloody well should have been told that they are no longer wanted and why and that they had had a letter. Just as they should have been told about the RPMs that were also ‘not secret …we just didn’t tell people’

    “victims were unfairly used, abused and traumatized….by those who used this subject for selfish reasons and political gain”

    I wont ask you to name them as Mick cant afford the legal bills. in any case we can all find out by tuning into the alien satellite hidden behind the moon that they use to control events across the world as part of a giant criminal / industrial / right wing / capitalist / communist group that really controls the world. . And you complain about conspiracy theories!!!!

    Do you think they will get it?

    Not with so many apologists for the Government about

  • Morpheus

    The last one raises some serious questions. Firstly, if the authorities in England felt there was sufficient evidence for a trial why were extradition proceedings not in place and secondly, why was the mistake not rectified when the PSNI became aware of the mistake?

  • Morpheus

    Well things just got embarrassing. Seriously, you haven’t a clue. Give it up

  • chrisjones2

    No ..I was referring to Morpheus

  • chrisjones2

    I understand that you have got very embarrassing

    Time will tell who has / hos not a clue

  • chrisjones2

    we can surely accept that those that would normally be pursued or incarcerated for lesserssimilar “crimes” could be exempt.

    That wasn’t the deal. They were supposed to appear before court if there was evidence

  • Morpheus
  • mickfealty

    I’m sure you’ve thought much worse about them in the past Jude.. 😉 (And yes, why indeed?)

  • chrisjones2

    You really do have some deep personal issues here don’t you. Oh dear. Too long in the MAtrix perhaps? Friend of Agent Smith are we?

    Wait no. I take that back. I will not play your silly game and be perosnally abusive. We disagree. Thats it. I am off to a good nights sleep. Sleep well

  • chrisjones2

    is prepared to defend it to the hilt.”

    and still thinks Iraq and Afghanistan were good ideas

  • chrisjones2

    The secret letters weren’t secret.

    Great have you a list of those who got OTR letters and RPMs please?

  • barnshee

    Well Blair is right up, to a point
    If he had told the truth (an admittedly unlikely event)
    It would have been along the lines

    The will be a de facto amnesty for all thugs and murderers
    All murderers now in jail will be realised
    All persons currently sought for murder will get a letter telling them they are no longer sought
    A power sharing government including convicted murders will be set up

    Running the referendum GFA with the truth up front -no GFA

  • Thomas Girvan

    So what about the ones who were not given the OTR letters?
    Basically they are being tipped off that the police are after you so take care to stay clear.
    Very nice of Old Bill to be so considerate.
    I wonder if any of the Costa Del Crime brigade hade written to the police to ask if they were wanted would the cops have informed them?
    Are you havin’ a larf?

  • Morpheus

    See above

  • Morpheus

    Yes, if they asked they would be told.

    You’re welcome

  • chrisjones2

  • Morpheus

    See above triple facepalm image but add in another few people

  • chrisjones2

    Obsessed with having the last word aren’t we. Watch and look for the message

  • Gopher

    Whatever your opinion is on OTR letters the fact does remain that the
    lack of inteligence and perception of the questioning allowed Blair on
    the front foot to invent a history were he would be a hero. Asking
    someone to apologize when they are bang to rights is the stupidest line
    of questioning one can imagine. It is also the least imaginative and therfore the esiest to counter. Your questions should get an unsolicited apology not allowing yeah sure Im sorry *but* BTW Im a saint, a great negoiator and I saved you from your animal selves. B

  • Morpheus

    Yeah, on a topical debate about OTRs and Tony Blair I am going to waste my time watching a 12 minute clip about The Matrix because my screen name happens to be a character in it. Righto.

    Add the whole cast of The Matrix to that facepalm image above.

    You’re done

  • Neil

    They were never going to get the better of him under any circumstances, but yeah they probably did as poorly as could possibly be expected. They thought he was coming for a bollocking but really it was to be an ego trip.

    Chris, there are lots of people who get all sorts of legal advice that I wouldn’t be privy to without their express permission. Providing a full list of names of innocent people, tainting them by association for crimes uncommitted wouldn’t be very fair. As we discussed back at the time, some of those on the list were innocent people who decided in the circumstances to split when the Brits started kicking their front door in in the middle of the night.

    Those people are innocent of any crime, but didn’t want to risk internment. Those people actually went through enough (having felt at risk of imprisonment for the sole reason of being born Catholic), without retrospectively sticking their name in the public domain for potential, unprovable (in fact imaginary) Republican activity.

  • chrisjones2

    There you go again. Agent Smith all over

    But honestly – if I have offended you in any way – other than by existing and expressing a view – then I apologize. Now lets have a break on this as we will not agree

  • chrisjones2

  • Morpheus

    Offended? Dude you are but a name on a screen that occasionally pops up in my inbox 🙂

  • chrisjones2


    And speaking personally I admire your appetite and taste for Government propaganda on this issue

  • Morpheus

    And I admire your appetite for these,

    It’s all good

  • chrisjones2

    That looks like Farage. The KIPPERS will be after you. You will end up with a poster campaign

  • Reader

    Barneyt: If we can agree that prisoners can be released, both republicans and loyalists,
    Is that meant to be a comfort? I would have preferred both lots stayed in prison. Failing that, that at least one lot stayed in prison (the lives of most unionists are not made better when loyalist prisoners get back onto the streets – I suppose their families and comrades may think differently). Nevertheless, in the context of the agreement as a whole, I voted for prisoner releases as part of the overall package.
    I did not vote for an amnesty.
    (Note, I’m not really agreeing with Chris about what is going on, I’m just disagreeing with you about what should happen.)

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The Hallett Review disagreed with you.
    Section 8 is the one to look at.
    Under the heading: “Communication with the wider Northern Ireland political community”:
    “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.”

    At 8.41, setting out what was in the public domain:
    “I now summarise some of the clearer public indications of the existence of the administrative scheme, together with official statements which were less than informative. 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.”

    At most damningly at 8.44:
    “None of the statements to Parliament made on behalf of the Government identified the unusual circumstances in which the reviews were being undertaken, and certain responses by ministers may have been less than helpful. I give two examples:
    In October 2006 Peter Robinson requested assurance “that no other procedure will be used to allow on-the-run terrorists to return”. The response of Mr Hain was: “There is no other procedure. There is no prospect of an amnesty.”
    In March 2007 Lady Hermon MP asked what measures the Government was considering to deal with OTRs other than further legislation or an amnesty. Mr Hain’s written answer was: “None … the Government continue to accept that the position of ‘on the runs’ is an anomaly, and we believe that the anomaly will need to be addressed at some stage. However, the Government do not have any current proposals for doing so.””
    A non-issue? Only if misleading parliament is a non-issue.

  • Catcher in the Rye


    On face value you are right. A letter informing a person that they are not wanted is on face value entirely legal.

    On the other hand, consider the scenario where one of the names on the list was handed over by SF but that person did not receive a letter (I don’t believe the government or SF have disclosed whether or not this ever happened, but it’s probably safe to say that it happened at least once – they can’t all have been innocent).

    That’s a signal from the government to that person that they are still being sought. Which means the government has perverted the course of justice by notifying them that they should stay outside of the jurisdiction.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    If Gerry McGeough’s name was submitted by SF and no comfort letter came back down the pipe, you have to ask why he chose to take the risk of re-entering the jurisdiction and standing for election. It seems unlikely that he intended to martyr himself given that he applied for the royal prerogative of mercy.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    so Blair gave them something that they were legally entitled to anyway.

    I am not sure where you get the idea that ordinarily a person is “legally entitled” to a letter from the authorities expressly stating that they are not wanted in connection with a crime without the police being involved.

    The way it normally works is that if you think the police want you, but you’re not sure, you show up at a police station, identify yourself and wait to see if they either arrest you or let you go.

    The OTRs did not want to do this because they did not want to run the risk that they might get arrested – which they clearly must have suspected to have been a possibility. Therefore this arrangement was put in place by Blair.

    Far from being a formality, this arrangement is unprecedented and almost certainly perverted the course of justice in some cases (although we’ll probably never know for sure if it did or not). This was a substantial concession from the Blair government to SF, and the unionists were in on it by virtue of casting a blind eye.

  • IRF

    The NIO issued a ‘letter of discomfort’ for him i.e. informing him there WAS evidence against him, but in the intervening period he fell out with SF and so Gerry Kelly never passed the letter on to him. This is obviously another flaw in the system (the fact that the letters weren’t issued directly to the recipients), probably reflecting the fact that the authorities didn’t know exactly where he was (almost the definition of an on-the-run), but such a flaw wasn’t sufficient in this case to allow McGeough to escape conviction in the same way that Downey did.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Yeah but .. given that he never received the confirmation you have to ask why he risked returning to the jurisdiction.

    As you say the letters couldn’t be passed on by the British government directly as this would require the government to be told of their whereabouts.

    That’s another aspect of this which is legally dubious, as by acting as couriers, republicans could theoretically have been prosecuted for perverting the course of justice by withholding details of the whereabouts of people who were wanted.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    No they wouldn’t.

  • IRF

    I suspect the location of many of the OTRs was known to the Gardai. (Indeed, the US authorities probably know where Rita O’Hare can be found to this day.) It would therefore seem unreasonable to prosecute SF members for withholding such information.