Fight predicted over OTR bill
Fight predicted over OTR bill

Controversy continues over plans by the Dublin and London governments to deal with outstanding cases from the conflict.

Republicans ‘on the run’ (OTR)from potential prosecution and members of the British forces who planned killings with paramilitary death squads are set to have their cases processed without the threat of a prison sentence.

The number of people who will benefit is thought to be about 100, with most cases dating back more than 20 years.

Most OTRs fled the North at a time when juryless Diplock courts achieved conviction rates of about 90 per cent. The RUC police was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for “inhumane and degrading treatment’’ of suspects, and many of those who fled charges had no involvment with the IRA.

Some republicans have raised concerns about the OTR proposals.

“Our negotiations were only about the OTRs - a very small number of people,” said one. “It was only meant to deal with people who had been charged and, had they been convicted, who would have been eligible for release under the Good Friday Agreement.

“What the British government has done is to introduce a catch-all to defend its own people, both the agents on the ground and the political leadership. There is good reason to believe that a lot of decisions in the 1980s and 1990s, such as shoot-to-kill, went as far up as prime minister Margaret Thatcher. This is to stop them from being exposed in court.”

The legislation is due to pass through the British parliament within two weeks, but is opposed by unionists and some British Conservatives.

Unionists have been busy trying to build up cross-party support for a No vote. But despite last week’s defeat of Tony Blair’s internment bill, it is considered unlikely they will succeed

The DUP has also written to the European Union’s Justice Commissioner asking him to consider whether the OTR legislation in Britain is in accordance with Europe’s protections of the human rights of victims.

Under the legislation, a special tribunal, headed by a retired judge, will hear evidence against the OTRs before reaching a verdict.

The OTRs will not have to attend the tribunal but, if found guilty, they will be required to submit DNA and fingerprints before receiving a criminal record.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, none of the OTRs would face a prison sentence, but their return is a boon for republicans.

Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy called for the issue to be resolved speedily.

“In any conflict resolution process, there are, from time to time, issues like this which quite clearly need to be tackled and addressed in a sensible fashion if we are to build confidence in the future,” he said.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News