» Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Northern Ireland

Asked what the Prime Minister would be saying to the RUC widows he was meeting today concerning the ‘on the run’ legislation, the PMOS said that Sylvia Hernon asked them to meet today and the Prime Minister was happy to accede to that request. They had said that they were primarily concerned about ‘on the run’ legislation. The Prime Minister acknowledged that there was nothing he could say which would lessen the pain of those who were affected by this legislation and who lost relatives killed by the IRA. In the same way that there was nothing that we could say to lessen the pain of those who had relatives who were killed by prisoners released early.

At times the Government did have to make the judgement as to what it believed was necessary to end the conflict in Northern Ireland. This was one of those occasions. We did not believe that we would have secured the Good Friday Agreement had we not agreed to the early-prisoner-release scheme. The ‘on the run’ legislation was a logical consequence of that. That was simply a fact of life. What it did do was place a responsibility on all of us to make sure that the conflict really did come to an end. In that light the IRA statement in July, followed by the IMC report saying that there were encouraging signs that the IRA had indeed ended activity, was an important point.

Asked why this was going through as emergency legislation without proper consultation, the PMOS said that this issue had been talked about since 2001. It was an issue which the two governments had issued a joint declaration on in May 2003. So there was nothing in this which should come as a surprise to anyone.

Asked when the amnesty was expected to start, the PMOS pointed out that it was not an amnesty because there would be a tribunal through which cases passed. He believed that the legislation would not go through until next summer, but people should check with the Northern Ireland Office.

Put to him that there seemed to be a case of double standards concerning the Government’s treatment of white Irish terrorists and Islamic terrorists, the PMOS said that that in Northern Ireland the conflict was coming to an end. We had a situation where the IRA, as Gerry Adams earlier today had said, that in their view the war was over. Unfortunately in terms of Al Qaeda that was not the case. They were seeking to escalate their campaign, not de-escalate it. We would not have had early-prisoner releases in Northern Ireland if we hadn’t believed Sinn Fein’s commitment to bringing the conflict to an end. Similarly, we would not be proposing ‘on the run’ legislation unless we believed that was finally and completely being put into effect. That was the key difference.

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

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