No amnesty until ministers implicated
No amnesty until ministers implicated

By Danny Morrison (for Daily Ireland)

In April 2003 the British and Irish governments published an annexe to their Joint Declaration which was to address the anomaly of people ‘on the run’ (OTRs) who cannot return to either jurisdiction for fear of prosecution for a political offence. Under the Belfast Agreement provision had already been made for the early release of political prisoners who belonged to organisations which were observing ceasefires.

Most if not all of those who are ‘on the run’ are republicans - for obvious reasons. No RUC officer had to go on the run for torturing and abusing those in custody. No RUC officer had to go on the run for shooting unarmed civilians. No British soldier had to go on the run for massacring civil rights marchers or killing kids with plastic bullets. The forces of the state were protected and often given anonymity. The British Attorney General protected them with Public Interest Immunity Certificates to curtail investigations and inquiries. The degree of systematic cover-up is immense: for example, Sir John Stevens could only publish 17 pages out of his 3000 page report on collusion.

The few soldiers or policemen who did face court were acquitted. There were exceptions and the few who were convicted, like Wright and Fisher, the murderers of Peter McBride, served derisory sentences and were then allowed back into the British army.

Unionist leaders throughout the conflict supported repression, the illegal use of state violence, and acted as cheerleaders and apologists for those who tortured, abused and killed, and made excuses for loyalist paramilitary violence when they weren’t standing shoulder-to-shoulder beside them.

Unionist leaders are frauds and hypocrites, attempting to occupy a notional moral high ground.

When they speak about the sense of outrage their community experienced when they saw republican prisoners, who were responsible for attacks on the RUC and British army, being given early release it was a sense of outrage which the nationalist community never experienced. As I said, those in the RUC and British army who killed our loved ones never went to jail in the first place.

‘On the runs’ fled the North for a variety of reasons. Some had been injured in conflict-related incidents. Some had been beaten in custody and feared a repetition. Some skipped bail because of the corruption in the courts and the many miscarriages of justice. Some fled because of the work of informers.

The Dublin government did all it could to apprehend, prosecute or extradite republican activists. A few people - such as Rita O’Hare and Owen Carron - before the few conscientious judges there were, eventually escaped extradition using the political exception clause or that they faced reprisal by state forces on their return. Others - like Gerry Tuite who escaped from Brixton Prison, and a number of the republicans who escaped from Crumlin Road Jail in June 1981 - were convicted under the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act (CLJA) and served lengthy sentences in the South.

That many of those currently ‘on the run’ have not been pursued under the CLJA suggests that there is little or no evidence against them, yet they still fear malicious prosecution should they return to the North. A lot of them have settled down in the twenty-six counties, made homes, reared families.

Next week the British government is expected to publish legislation dealing with OTRs, and outlining a process by which republicans can return or visit their former homes in the North, as it promised within the context of ‘Acts of Completion’ by the IRA.

(Meanwhile, the Dublin government has set a very bad precedent and resiled from its 2003 commitments. It has stated that those suspected of involvement in the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe will not qualify under the OTR scheme, despite the fact that the courts have declared them as qualifying prisoners under the early release scheme that came out of the Belfast Agreement.)

The British legislation is expected to be based on the somewhat convoluted procedure outlined in the April 2003 Annexe on OTRs. Unionists have been aware of these proposals for years. Indeed, the DUP when they were allegedly prepared to go into Dublin with Sinn Féin last year knew that the agreement included a commitment to implement these proposals.

Now, however, the proposals are seen by unionists as another opportunity to delay political change and frame the conflict as one in which they exclusively were the victims. Thus republicans - more specifically, the OTRs who are the only people left to pick on - must show remorse and apologise.

In the scenario outlined in the 2003 proposals applicants would apply to an Eligibility Body which would have to satisfy itself that the person was a supporter of the peace process. Once someone had been declared eligible, he or she would be granted a certificate to show that they were free to return to the North without risk of arrest for questioning or charge.

Once a certificate had been granted, the matter would be passed to a non-jury Special Judicial Tribunal consisting of one senior judge. The Public Prosecution Service would be able to bring charges against any person whom the Eligibility Commission had declared eligible. The applicant would not be required to be present at the trial. He or she would be able to plead not guilty and could decide to instruct a defence to be mounted. The Special Judicial Tribunal would not have the power to remand in custody. In the event of conviction, the Special Judicial Tribunal would pass sentence, but the person convicted would immediately qualify for the early release scheme.

(It is all a bit of an expensive and time-wasting farce and with a bit of imagination could have been resolved more simply. It also undermines what is called ‘the cold case review’ of up to 1,800 unsolved killings throughout the conflict on which the British government is devoting #30million. That review, even with the benefit of applying modern forensic methods to old cases, is unlikely to produce much.)

Unionists have protested at the proposed legislation and seek to include confessions and ‘a public acknowledgement of guilt’ from OTR applicants as a precondition for eligibility. They are recruiting Tory MPs, Labour Party right-wingers and the Liberal Democrats to their cause, some of whom don’t give a damn about the effect reneging on a deal could have on the peace process and only see it as another opportunity for attacking Tony Blair who was humiliated in last week’s close vote in the House of Commons on the new terrorism bill.

However, opposition might also suit the British government.

Despite the many obstacles placed in their way, the campaigns and some of the inquiries for the truth about state violence have revealed the black nature of Britain’s dirty war and its collusion in the loyalist assassination campaign.

The only ones who can implicate British ministers in the dirty war are those in the intelligence services who reported to them. Were they ever to face the prospects of prosecution they would be sure to threaten to bring down with them their political masters. It is then that the British government will issue a comprehensive amnesty.

Not out of a sense of justice. Not for peace, reconciliation or as part of conflict resolution.

But to ensure that it has got away with murder.

Urgent Appeal

Despite increasing support for Irish freedom and unity, we need your help to overcome British and unionist intransigence. We can end the denial of our rights in relation to Brexit, the Irish language, a border poll and legacy issues, with your support.

Please support IRN now to help us continue reporting and campaigning for our national rights. Even one pound a month can make a big difference for us.

Your contribution can be made with a credit or debit card by clicking below. A continuing monthly donation of £2 or more will give you full access to this site. Thank you. Go raibh míle maith agat.

© 2005 Irish Republican News