Letters to fugitives scheme ‘has ended’

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Five outstanding applications from on-the-run IRA suspects seeking letters assuring them they are not wanted by police will not be processed by the Government, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.

While Theresa Villiers has already insisted the controversial scheme set up to deal with republicans wanting to enter the UK is at an end, there had been confusion about the status of the five cases that were still effectively in the system.

The deal struck by the previous Labour government and Sinn Fein saw names of individuals passed to the authorities to check whether they were being pursued by police. If officers were not looking for them, they were sent a so-called assurance letter stating that fact. Around 190 republicans received letters – 12 since the coalition came to power in 2010.

Ms Villiers yesterday said that when the Northern Ireland Office ceased its involvement in the administrative process in 2012, no conclusion had been reached on five applications and they remained under review.

Last week the Democratic Unionists demanded that any consideration of those cases was halted immediately.

During a visit in Belfast, Ms Villiers insisted no letters would be sent to those five individuals.

“The NIO has no plans to take further action on those cases. My understanding is the (Stormont) Department of Justice wants nothing to do with the scheme, so as far as the Government is concerned this scheme is at an end,” she said.

Sinn Fein accused the Conservative MP of showing “bad faith” in reneging on the agreement on on-the-runs. Conor Murphy, Sinn Fein MP for Newry and Armagh, said: “What her comments smack off is her complete lack of understanding of the peace process and the political viewpoints of republicans and nationalists, something which has been typical of her tenure in the North.”

Details about the letters emerged last week when the case against a man charged with the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing collapsed. John Downey, 62, from Donegal, denied murdering four soldiers in the attack in London.

The case against him was ended because government officials mistakenly sent him one of the assurance letters in 2007 telling him he was no longer a wanted man.