OTR bill ‘will be passed’ - Hain
OTR bill ‘will be passed’ - Hain

The British government has said it will not tolerate any “wrecking amendments” to proposed legislation concerning those ‘on the run’ from potential conflict-related prosecutions.

British Direct Ruler Peter Hain also said Sinn Féin had no prior agreement with the London government to include members of British forces under the terms of the Bill dealing with open cases dating from before the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

He defended the measure, citing an agreement concluded with the Dublin government at Hillsborough in April, 2003.

“We made an agreement with the Irish Government and with Sinn Féin over a period of years, and published in 2003, that we would do this and we are honouring that agreement, however difficult it is and tough it is for everybody,” he said.

Even though the House of Commons passed the second stage of the bill in the London parliament last week, unionists are hoping the upper House of Lords can be used to defeat the legislation, or at least amend it beyond recognition.

Ian Paisley’s hardline Democratic Unionist Party has tabled 55 amendments in an effort to thwart the legislation.

The party’s proposals also involve forcing those who benefit from the plans to serve at least a third of their prison sentence and for a halt to all inquiries into alleged security-force wrongdoing during the conflict.

Other amendments include fixing a six-month time limit on applying for a certificate, and ordering applicants to attend a special tribunal.

“Even if all of these amendments were passed, the bill would still represent an unacceptable step for the government to take. But at least it would be an improvement on the total immorality of the current bill.

“We will use every parliamentary opportunity to do all we can to block the passage of this legislation, and the government will be given a rough ride at every stage of legislation.”

Meanwhile, opposition politicians in the 26 Counties have warned of a “constitutional crisis” over plans to grant amnesties to those in a similar position south of the border.

“It is inexplicable why the Taoiseach and the Government are proceeding down a road that leads to a constitutional minefield and will draw the President into a political row,” declared Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny.

“A presidential pardon is irrevocable and has only been used on three occasions in the history of the State,” Mr Kenny said.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern insisted the initiative was not unconstitutional, had the full backing of the Attorney General and would apply to only a “handful” of OTRs.

Speaking after a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at an EU-Mediterranean summit in Barcelona, Mr Ahern made it clear he was determined to press ahead with the amnesties.

“We allowed out all of the prisoners in 1998 so we’re now talking about people who were never caught and probably a lot of them would never return home.

“This is an issue that has to be dealt with and completed. This was an arrangement that was made four and a half years ago,” he said.

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