Northern Ireland

On the Runs: DUP criticises Sinn Féin OTR hearing stance

Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly
Image caption Martin McGuinness said there was no point in Gerry Kelly (right) attending the hearing

Sinn Féin's decision not to attend Westminster's 'On the Runs' inquiry is "not surprising", the DUP has said.

It is examining how more than 200 people were told they were no longer wanted for paramilitary crimes before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Féin says there is no point in attending, as it met the review team of a separate inquiry last week.

DUP MP Ian Paisley said he would ask the committee to investigate using its powers to compel witnesses to attend.

'Corrupted justice'

The On the Runs letters scheme came to light in February when the trial of County Donegal man John Downey for the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing was halted because he had mistakenly received one of those letters.

A separate inquiry ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron is due to report in the summer.

Martin McGuinness said he had accompanied Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly at a meeting with Lady Justice Hallett's review team last week to "put Sinn Féin's position on this and other legacy issues on the record".

"We see no point therefore in Gerry Kelly attending the Westminster select committee into the issue," he said.

The deputy first minister said: "Sinn Féin has clearly outlined our position on the issue of On the Runs and despite claims to the contrary, neither this process, nor the agreements on which it was based, were secret or hidden.

"However, in the interests of transparency and in an attempt to minimise the damage to the peace process from a growing public controversy, Sinn Féin agreed to participate fully and willingly in the Hallett Review."

DUP MP David Simpson said: "Sinn Féin's approach to this inquiry speaks volumes about their attitude to truth recovery when this is the approach they take to telling the truth about this corrupt scheme.

"There seems to be a reluctance to be cross-examined in public about the matter.

"These letters corrupted justice. Justice should never be time-limited and there must never be anyone who is 'untouchable'. It is vital that wherever evidence can be gathered that this is followed to its conclusion, regardless of where that leads."

Sinn Féin's decision not to attend was also criticised by Laurence Robertson, chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs select committee.

"I am especially surprised that they say they are giving evidence to the Hallett inquiry," said the Conservative MP.

"It begs the question 'what is the difference?' and of course there is a big difference - one is in public and the other is in private.

"That is the only difference I can see and that is obviously something that they are uncomfortable with.

"We were giving them the opportunity to put forward their point of view in public. If everything is above board why not come in and discuss it?"