OTRs could be ‘deal breaker’
OTRs could be ‘deal breaker’

DUP leader Ian Paisley has said any move to allow republicans facing conflict-related prosecutions in the north of Ireland to come home would be “a deal breaker” for sharing power with Sinn Féin.

Press reports which suggested the prosecutions were to be dropped in the public interest have angered the DUP.

Sinn Féin has said that British prime minister Tony Blair, in the Christmas negotiations, provided assurances that he would settle the issue the so-called ‘on-the-runs’ (OTRs) before he left office.

Mr Paisley said there would be “dire consequences” if the British government tried to proceed with the matter.

The reports also controversially claimed that former members of the British Crown forces could be exempted from prosecution over their actions in the conflict.

However, the Northern Ireland Office said the reports were incorrect.

A spokeperson repeated that there was no intention to introduce an amnesty or any fresh legislation regarding the so-called ‘on-the-runs’ (OTRs)

“OTR cases are considered by the PPS (Public Prosecution Service) according to the tests for prosecution,” the spokesperson said.

“These tests are set out in the statutory code for prosecutors and apply to all cases.

“Each case is considered individually on the basis of its particular facts and circumstances. There are no exceptions.”

The SDLP said allowing the republicans to return home by such a deal would be “unacceptable” but Sinn Féin accused the SDLP of desperately stoking up the issue for electoral gain.

The DUP’s Nigel Dodds claimed his party had defeated previous attempts to introduce an amnesty for OTRs.

“An amnesty for OTRs is just as unacceptable whether it is done directly in legislation or indirectly through some kind of administrative fix,” he said.

Mr Dodds added: “If government does decide to go down such a route then it is placing any prospects of politically stable devolution in jeopardy.

“If the government thinks it can sneak in such a provision at some point in the future (after the election) and think it will have no effect on the political situation, it is gravely mistaken.”

In a separate development, Mr Hain warned the North’s political parties that there was not “a cat in hell’s chance” of extending the March 25th deadline for forming an executive.

He said that any extension of the deadline would require him to introduce new emergency legislation to prevent the immediate shutdown of the Belfast Assembly.

“There’s not a cat in hell’s chance of me doing that or even if I tried it of Parliament accepting it. It’s simply a fantasy to think that fresh emergency legislation will be brought forward when the whole process was established by emergency legislation only a few months ago.”

Mr Hain said if no deal was reached on March 26th, the Assembly was likely to remain closed at least until 2009.

He added that recent remarks by SDLP leader Mark Durkan and some DUP backbenchers suggesting that the deadline could be postponed reflected a lack of understanding of the legislation that followed last year’s talks at St Andrews.

“This legislation is like no other legislation since the Good Friday agreement.

It closes Stormont down. Stormont doesn’t go into limbo, it closes down. If it dissolves on March 26th, it doesn’t allow Stormont to come back without a fresh election,” he said.

He warned politicians in the North that, if they believe that the March deadline is flexible and that they can gain advantage by stalling the talks, they are mistaken.

Mr Hain said that this week’s statement by Newry police chief Bobby Hunniford praising Sinn Féin for its co-operation over the murder of a local taxi driver showed that the party was fulfilling its commitment to support the PSNI.

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