NI Affairs Committee On The Runs report – an example of something being “hidden in plain sight”

The NI Affairs Committee’s 111-page report into The administrative scheme for “on-the-runs” [PDF] will take some time to read and digest. In the meantime, picking out a few of its 62 conclusions and recommendations … 2. It is clear that Sinn Féin pushed for OTRs to be dealt with at the highest level, and that promises were made by the Prime Minister as a result of the pressure put upon HM Government by Sinn Féin. Over the years, Tony Blair … Read more

OTR letter omitted original mention of live suspect status in post GFA murder…

So here, to re-iterate to those not following what is controversial and what is not controversial about the OTR letter issue here is a case which aptly demonstrates the former. There’s added interest in this case since it involves the murder of someone which took place in the post GFA period, that of Gareth O’Connor.. The PSNI mistakenly gave an on-the-run (OTR) letter to the man whom the inquest was told is the main suspect in the O’Connor murder. It … Read more

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 … Read more

7 NI political hot potatoes for early 2015

1. Expect Mitchel McLaughlin to be finally elected as Speaker of the NI Assembly. If the Welfare Reform Bill passes its Consideration Stage by the end of February (as the financial package requires), will the DUP withdraw their objection and allow Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin to be elected as Speaker? They’ll surely not wait until the Bill receives Royal Assent? Mitchel’s elevation will create a vacancy for a Deputy Speaker. Who will the DUP nominate from within their ranks? Realistically … Read more

#OTRs: Police Ombudsman finds PSNI’s ‘Operation Rapid’ flawed…

The Police Ombudsman reports Dr Maguire has said that while it was not improper for a police service to review the circumstances in which it regards people as ‘wanted,’ the process used lacked clarity: “The Terms of Reference for the exercise is silent on how individuals were selected to be reviewed or the procedure by which the information from the review was to be communicated onwards to other parties. Nor could we find a satisfactory rationale as to why the … Read more

Theresa in the Wonderland of the Hallett review

The plainly rushed Hallett Review and the British government response to it raise as many questions as answers. They expose not a carefully planned discreet operation but a terribly improvised muddle in which the  left hand ( the  PSNI)  did not know the full de facto amnesty effect of what the right hand ( the NIO)  was doing, and with nobody really  holding onto  the wriggling baby. The longer term inquiry by the Commons Northern Ireland Select Committee may go on … Read more

UPDATED #ShinnersList not a secret and not an amnesty…

So, the #ShinnersList is real, legal but not an enforceable amnesty… The police had realised they had made a mistake, but the assurance to the County Donegal man was never withdrawn. “Nothing in law or logic” explained their failure to rectify the error, Lady Justice Hallett said. “The administrative scheme was kept ‘below the radar’ due to its political sensitivity, but it would be wrong to characterise the scheme as ‘secret’,” she said. She added: “If there was a lack … Read more

Intercept evidence could convict terrorists, says former SoS Murphy

As a  curtain raiser to Lady Justice Heather Hallett’s  review of OTRs’  “ administrative scheme” due out tomorrow (Thursday), the mild-mannered former Labour secretary of state Paul Murphy has told the separate  inquiry into the affair by the Commons Northern Ireland Select Committee that more convictions might have been obtained if the rules of evidence were changed. “Now my own personal view, which I expressed when I was chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee (at Westminster), was it should … Read more

Government shambles revealed over details of OTR links to murder

After republican outrage over Gerry Adams’ interrogation, it’s high time to revive unionist fury over the OTR comfort letters with the revelation that 95 out of 228 beneficiaries were linked by the police to murder. From the tortuous accounts by the Chief Constable Matt Baggott and ACC Drew Harris before the NI Select Committee of MPs today, the DUP can hardly be blamed for failing to realise in full what was going on. Neither did the Chief Constable for most … Read more

“there was a ‘culture’ in the Northern Ireland Office not to prosecute Republicans…”

In appearing on the first day, Norman Baxter has set a fairly direct tone for the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the administrative scheme for OTRs (see also), by suggesting that it was the Northern Ireland Office which was indulging in politics over Republican suspects rather than the PSNI: He then claimed pressure had also been exerted from Downing Street in regard to the 2007 arrests of Gerry McGeough and Vincent McAnespie in relation to the attempted murder … Read more

“why should we as a people even consider absolving you of murder in such circumstances?”

I wrote the following piece last February and it was carried in several papers. But in light of the events of the last few weeks, I’ve asked Mick to post it here in full on Slugger. Someone said recently that Ian Paisley was either right in the ideological principles he was promoting in the 1960’s through to the late 2000’s and the methods he was using and wrong now or wrong then and right now. The same could be said … Read more

Pitch for a selective ‘use of immunity’ sets Sinn Fein at odds with victims groups

Declan Kearney’s blog over at the BelTel on the Secretary of State’s 7th March speech is worth highlighting for a number of reasons. One, it comes a full seven days after the Villiers speech. And two the argument begins with an odd reference to ‘narrative’: By setting out the primacy of a single narrative, and rejecting the use of immunity as one instrument to assist in dealing with the past, the British Government has come out against the Haass compromises. … Read more

“This may involve kicking over a lot of creatively ambiguous rocks…”

And belatedly, here’s Newton Emerson from the Irish News last weekend (£): PETER Robinson settled for a “judge-led review” from David Cameron into the on-the-runs letters, for reasons that may involve kicking the issue into the long grass until after May’s elections. However, Westminster’s cross-party Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was not mollified and has now announced its own parliamentary inquiry, with a far wider remit than Cameron’s wig-adorned paperwork exercise plus the power to compel evidence and witnesses. This may … Read more

OTR scheme review judge named, and NI Affairs Committee launches inquiry

Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey might well think “it would’ve been better to have left the issue alone”  [I couldn’t possibly comment… -Ed].  But that’s not happening.  Today the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, informed the House of Commons that “the Rt Hon Lady Justice Hallett DBE has been appointed to conduct an independent review of the administrative scheme to deal with so-called ‘on-the-runs’”. The terms of reference of the review are: to produce a full public account of the operation and … Read more

#ShinnersList: “we are in position where it would’ve been better to have left the issue alone”

So, how many crises do you know that last just 24 hours? Peter Robinson getting his inquiry from David Cameron is merely the close of phase one, not necessarily the end of the crisis per se. The Sunday Politics for instance carried this warning from Alex Maskey: I believe that Peter Robinson and others have created a storm they don’t know where it will actually all end up. And they may regret creating that storm because they have created a … Read more

Is Villiers’ warning to OTRs the cue to launch a whole new search for fresh evidence?

Theresa Villiers has delivered her solemn warning  to recipients that their comfort letters are not get out of jail cards. They will not protect you from arrest or from prosecution and if the police can gather sufficient evidence, you will be subject to all the due processes of law, just like anybody else. The letters do not amount to any immunity, exemption or amnesty something that could only ever be granted by legislation passed by Parliament. They were statements of … Read more

Only amnesties here are de-facto and protect state forces and their agents.

Mark Thompson of Relatives For Justice has a lengthy piece on the OTR issue over at the Compromise after Conflict blog and takes the opportunity to highlight the degree of attention this is getting in the media compared to that given his own organisation. He concludes though: OTR letters are not amnesties but they are of legitimate concern to those affected by republicans much the same that the issues raised in this article are of equal concern to those affected … Read more

#ShinnersList: “I have never heard an explanation as to why Operation Rapid as a term, was never made clear to the board.”

So the Policing Board eh? Not exactly a paragon of the protestant (or even Catholic) work ethic, yet it exploded into life last night with even the normally mild mannered Chief Constable telling his interlocutors: “Can I caution the member that under the code of conduct that he does not have the right to question the integrity of the members of the command team or myself.” Erm, now I know these guys have been conspicuously missing in action up to … Read more

“We’re not trapped in our past; we are trapped in a distrust stoked by our leaders”

Warren Little in his column for the Impartial Reporter makes some critical points on the OTR issue. First, unfinished business: Other questions remain. Why did Peter Hain tell Parliament that he had no proposals for OTRs without mentioning the scheme? Why did he subsequently talk about having to ‘cut deals’ if the letters were merely factual assessments of the OTRs’ current status? Why were victims’ families not informed, at least on a no-names basis? That latter failure is glaring, and … Read more

#ShinnersList: Government had to trust Sinn Fein not to use this private arrangement to their own narrow advantage

I was on the Irish Times Inside Politics with Hugh Linihan and Martin Mansergh. The OTR section starts with an interview with Finola Meredith at about 31 minutes in. I kick off my own remarks with the suggestion that if any political party in the south had been caught striking the kind of clandestine arrangement the #ShinnersList appears to be (jury is still out on just what it was in its fullest extent, the government would have fallen. Why? Exhibit … Read more