Irish Republican News · December 22, 2005
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]

Sinn Féin has withdrawn its support for the British government’s controversial Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, which deals with the issue of individuals on-the-run (OTRs) from outstanding conflict-related prosecutions.

The move marks a recognition of growing concern among nationalists that the legislation, currently passing through the British parliament, has been deceptively extended to include an amnesty for members of the British Crown forces as well as unionist paramilitaries still engaged in sectarian violence.

As he led a delegation of victims’ groups to meet British Direct Ruler Peter Hain, Sinn Féin vice-president, Pat Doherty, said the legislation was too far removed from an agreement with the British government during negotiations in 2001 which would have enabled republicans who have been on the run for decades to return home.

The West Tyrone MP said: “We are now calling for it to be rejected and we are withdrawing from anything to do with it”.

Mr Doherty also revealed they would be advising on-the-run republicans not to seek registration under the legislation should it go through.

The move marked a recognition of growing concern that the bill included an agenda to give an effective amnesty to members of the British Crown forces guilty of state murder. Unionist paramilitaries still engaged in sectarian violence could also have seen their past wiped clean.

Under the legislation, the British government envisaged people who have been living abroad to avoid arrest, or people suspected of murders before the Good Friday Agreement, applying to a certification commissioner to ensure they are not sent to prison if they set foot in the North.

Any individual facing a possible prosecution would be issued with a certificate guaranteeing they would not be arrested. However, a special tribunal could still deliver a guilty verdict, with the accused being “freed” under a revokable licence.

Urging the British government to scrap the legislation, Mr Doherty said: “There are no British ground forces on the run.

“It was sleight of hand and inexcusable to bring that aspect into the legislation. It was not agreed at Weston Park, and it is not acceptable and needs to be rejected.”

Mr Doherty said Sinn Féin had been in contact with many of those on the run before making the decision to reject the legislation.

The rival nationalist SDLP and unionists are also calling for the abandonment of the Bill.

However, British officials have given no indication the bill would be withdrawn.

A spokesman said: “There is no other vehicle for dealing with OTRs, and Sinn Féin is deluding itself if it thinks there is.”

Meanwhile, the Dublin government has said it will withdraw its plans to grant pardons to ‘on-the-runs’ in the 26 Counties if British legislation on the same issue is not enacted.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan exchanged scathing criticism with Sinn Féin, accusing republicans of selling out the victims of state collusion with unionist paramilitaries.

“The deal by Sinn Féin and the British government at Hillsborough in 2003 covered ‘all scheduled offences’. This includes state murders,” said the Derry MP.

“It is there in a public document for all to see. That is what Sinn Féin signed up to. The question is, why has it taken Sinn Féin a month-and-a-half to come out against this legislation?

“Why did Conor Murphy fly over to Westminster to welcome it - the day after Peter Hain made clear that it applied to state killers?

“Why did Martin McGuinness accuse the SDLP of being ‘naive’ in saying that state killers should not be covered?

“Who is naive now Martin?”

McGuinness in turn accused Durkan of “distortion, dishonesty and downright lies”.

He said the comments by the SDLP leader were “despicable”, and an attempt to attack Sinn Féin for everything that happens “regardless of the facts”.

“The reality is that the British state orchestrated state killing through collusion. The British state continues to cover-up collusion. The same British state agencies operated the spy-ring at Stormont and brought the political institutions down.

“And what is the SDLP response? They blame Sinn Féin.

“The current SDLP interest in collusion is in stark contrast to their silence when collusion was bringing death and suffering to many families. The SDLP failed to raise this issue in Westminster or in Europe. In fact, when victims of collusion lobbied MPs at Westminster and MLAs the SDLP, including Mark Durkan ignored them.

“How does Mark Durkan explain that. Not one SDLP MLA turned up to meet the victims of collusion.

“Yet now they accuse Sinn Féin which was a primary target of the death squads of collusion to hide the truth. That is a barefaced lie.”

Mr McGuinness pointed out that he had lost friends and colleagues as a result of collusion “at a time when the SDLP was supporting the RUC and dismissing collusion as Sinn Féin propaganda.

“The SDLP record in tackling the issue of collusion is abysmal when compared with Sinn Féin’s. The reality is that the SDLP through heir support for the PSNI and their membership of the policing Board are now part of the policing establishment.”

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© 2005 Irish Republican News