Government ‘on the run’ scheme lawful, says Sinn Fein

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SINN FEIN said the report by Lady Justice Hallett into “on the runs” (OTRs) confirmed that the Government scheme was lawful.

Gerry Kelly described claims that amnesties were given to terrorists as a “unionist myth” and insisted he was not celebrating the collapse of the Hyde Park bombing trial.

The senior republican said it was time to address issues left outstanding from the peace process.

“Lady Hallett said that this scheme was lawful, it was done through the process of the British Attorney General and Public Prosecution Service.

“Far from it being secret, she also notes that Sinn Fein, on a continuous basis, had pushed for a public manifestation of dealing with OTRs and it was raised on a continual basis.”

He said there could be no question of rescinding the letters.

The former IRA prison escapee, who did not receive a letter, said: “There was a commitment given. The John Downey 
cases, the veracity or the strength of the letter, albeit that they said it was a mistake, was tested in court.”

He said it was never intended to constitute an amnesty.

“The myth of amnesty is a unionist myth, it has never been uttered by anybody from the republican or nationalist background.

“We never asked for an amnesty.”

Stormont justice minister David Ford said he wanted to ensure the justice system was fit for purpose in 2014 following publication of the report.

“It certainly makes clear that the OTR scheme was flawed. What I am concerned about, as minister for justice, is to see that we provide confidence in the system by dealing with some of the outstanding issues highlighted by Lady Justice Hallett which need to be resolved.”

Meanwhile, a former Labour Minister said Tony Blair is responsible for the so-called “comfort letters” sent to Irish republicans “on the run”. Labour’s Kate Hoey said the former prime minister’s letters to Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams saying “we are going to sort this” showed he was responsible.

She spoke as Lady Justice Heather Hallett’s review found that the letters sent to the suspected terrorists in a controversial Government scheme saying they were not wanted by UK police did not amount to a “get out of jail free card”.