Collusion ‘amnesty’ provokes clash
Collusion ‘amnesty’ provokes clash

A vote on the OTRs bill was passed at its second reading in the London parliament amid continuing controversy over the legislation.

The legislation was designed to tackle the anomaly of qualifying republicans facing jail despite the release in recent years of those imprisoned during the conflict under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

But concern has mounted in recent days that the British government is trying to create an amnesty for state agents and officials who were involved in state collusion with unionist death squads and other illegal activities.

Under the legislation, anyone facing the prospect of a conflict-related prosecution from before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 can avail of the proposed special judicial procedure to avoid the possibility of imprisonment.

At the end of a six-hour debate at Westminster, an opposition amendment was defeated by 313 votes to 258, a majority of 55. The main motion was carried by 310 votes to 262.

Sinn Féin has opposed the inclusion of British state forces in the current legislation, but remains the only party in the North backing the bill. The nationalist SDLP has mounted a strong attack on Sinn Féin on the issue.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan has alleged that extending the legislation to the British security forces was a “calculated trade-off” to allow IRA ‘on the runs’ (OTRs) to return to the North.

“This is the result of a squalid sort of deal by people who have interests in common about covering up the past. This legislation is designed to deny victims justice,” he said.

“Gerry Adams claimed that Sinn Féin did not know that this legislation was going to extend to killers and other criminal people inside crown forces. Gerry Adams did know. Sinn Féin knew.”

Mr Durkan was dismissive of Mr Adams’s opposition to this new element of the legislation. “If Gerry Adams is serious about his objections to these aspects of the Bill he will join all the other Northern Ireland parties in asking the British government to withdraw this Bill,” he said.

Both Sinn Féin and British officials have confirmed that the original proposals negotiated at Weston Park in 2001 did not include members of British state forces.

Families of collusion victims have been deeply angered by the attempts of the British government “to use the on-the-run legislation to provide an escape clause for their agents involved in the murder of our relatives and friends,” according to Robert McClenaghan of anti-collusion group, An Fhirinne.

“Those who reorganised and rearmed the UDA, UVF and Ulster Resistance have never been on-the-run from anyone. In fact, many still hold senior positions in the NIO, the British army, the PSNI and the British government itself.”

Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness accused the SDLP of cynically using the victims of state violence to score cheap political points.

Mr McGuinness said the position on the legislation was “crystal clear”.

“Sinn Féin did not support, propose, discuss or accept that members of the British state forces should be part of the process. For this reason we did not argue for an amnesty.”

“Sinn Féin are opposed to the inclusion of British state forces in the current legislation. In our view it represents the latest attempt by the British state to conceal the truth about its involvement in the killing of citizens. This proposal is not part of any agreement with Sinn Féin or indeed as the Taoiseach pointed out in the Dail on Wednesday with the Irish government either.”

Mr McGuinness said that when collusion policy was at its height “it was our party activists who were a primary target in this policy of state murder. When Sinn Féin raised the issue of collusion publicly the SDLP dismissed it as ‘republican propaganda’.”

  • Belfast Crown Court judge Mr Justice McLaughlin said Michael Rogan had “no case to answer” in regard to the 1996 bomb attack by the IRA at Thiepval barracks.

    Rogan was re-arrested last November in Tenerife after spending seven years on the run.

    Mr Justice McLaughlin told the court that although he had prepared a judgement setting out his reasons for the acquittals, it was not yet ready to be delivered.

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