» Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Northern Ireland

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned at the message the "On the Runs" legislation might send to future home grown generations of terrorists, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said absolutely not. This applied only to those who committed offences before 1998, and it was prefigured by the agreement that was part of the Good Friday Agreement to release prisoners early. We recognised fully that it did not in any way take away from the pain of those who lost relatives to the IRA, but as we said at the time of the Good Friday Agreement, we believed the prisoner release scheme was the necessary part of getting the agreement, and the legislation for "On the Runs" that was agreed two years ago in a joint declaration, was necessary as a logical extension. The PMOS said we had to accept that it did not in any way take away the pain of those who had lost relatives, but we believed it was necessary as part of bringing the conflict to an end.

Put that during the Good Friday Agreement discussions, there had been talk of using a South African model, and what happened to that idea, the PMOS said the reality was that there were very many different, contrasting and conflicting views on the value of a truth and recognition process within Northern Ireland. Whilst comparisons with South Africa could be useful in some ways, there were also very big differences. The biggest different in Northern Ireland was that there were very conflicting views of the past, and no real agreement about the past within Northern Ireland. That was why it was very difficult to get agreement about how the past could be dealt with. Therefore, what we had done was to take new measures on helping victims, and why the "Cold Cases" review was being carried out by the police. However, the unfortunate but not surprising thing was that there was not an agreement on how the past should be dealt with.

Asked if there had been a political instruction that the hunt for the "On the Runs" should be less than energetic, the PMOS made it clear that at no stage had there been any political decision taken not to investigate cases, and the setting up of the PSNI Cold Cases Review was an indication of that. Equally, in the Omagh case, anyone convicted of the Omagh case would not be a beneficiary of this scheme because that atrocity had occurred after 1998.

Asked how many OTRs would take up the facility, the PMOS replied it was very difficult to estimate because by their very nature, people who were on the run were not part of an easily identifiable group, and therefore, the PMOS said he would not like to get into predicting, but it would be as people came forward to be certified as on the run.

Put to the PMOS that the "On the Runs" were by definition violent and resourceful men and would this therefore lead to a "new wave" of brutal source of gangsters in Northern Ireland, the PMOS replied that the reality was that on all sides in Northern Ireland, there were people who had had a violent past. Some of those were beneficiaries of the agreement on early release for prisoners in 1998 as part of the Good Friday Agreement. The other reality that should not be lost sight of, however, was that in July, we had the statement from the IRA committing the IRA to stopping all activity. As the IMC Report said, although it was too soon yet to be definitive, there were encouraging signs that that had happened. In terms of the paramilitary organisations, we were seeing progress in bringing the conflict to an end, and ending not only paramilitary activity of the kind that we were used to, but also criminal activity associated with that. That was what was important, and we should wait and see what the IMC Report said in January.

The PMOS stressed that there were signs of real progress and we should not lose sight of that, and that was also why it was necessary to recognise that as the conflict came to an end, really hard decisions such as these had to be made. It was not a decision that people took lightly in any way, but it was one that had to be taken at the end of a conflict.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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