Northern Ireland

On The Run letters: Ian Paisley calls for list to be published

Ian paisley
Image caption Mr Paisley called for the full publication of all recipients of the letters and legislation to "formally annul" their value and "put meat on the bones" on Ms Villiers' statement that they are without value

The DUP MP Ian Paisley has repeated calls for the government to publish a list of the names of people who received On the Run (OTR) letters.

The letters gave assurances they were not wanted by the UK authorities

It emerged on Monday during an inquest into the murder of Gareth O'Connor in Newry, County Down, in May 2003 that the chief murder suspect was mistakenly given a letter.

The letter was delivered by the Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly in 2008.

Mr Kelly defended his role and said he did not know the murder suspect.

He said his name was on most of the letters as a conduit for Sinn Féin.

Mr O'Connor disappeared while he was travelling to Dundalk Garda Station to sign as part of his bail conditions after being charged with membership of the Real IRA.

He never arrived. In 2005, a car containing his body was dragged from Newry Canal.

His family have always believed he was killed by the Provisional IRA, despite assurances from top figures in the republican movement - including Mr Kelly - that he was not.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Paisley called for the full publication of all recipients of the letters and legislation to "formally annul" their value and "put meat on the bones" of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers' claim that they were without value.

"The most disturbing aspect of what you have told the House today is the fact that the O'Connor murder relates to a post-1998 murder that occurred in 2003," he said.

"We have been consistently told that the names of the OTRs were critical to securing a 1998 peace agreement, yet this murder post-dates that occurrence.

"Would you now agree to publish all of the names with all of the letters?

"Could you estimate how many other errors are in this catalogue of errors and accept that the government and the Hallett Review, whose conclusion is that there is a single error, that that conclusion is now without foundation?

Image caption Gerry Kelly said there was "nothing he could do" to help Gareth O'Connor's family after his disappearance

"And would you now consider legislation to formally annul the value of all of these letters to put meat on the bones of what you have said that these letters are without value?"

In response to an urgent oral question from Mr Paisley, Ms Villiers said new laws would be no more effective than statements she had already made confirming that the letters should not be relied upon.

"Having considered this carefully, the most effective means to ensure that we do everything we can to remove barriers to justice is by a clear statement indicating that this scheme is at an end and these letters should not be relied on. That's what I've done," she said.

"Legislation would not take us further and I believe would not be the right option in this instance."

Mr Paisley also called for compensation for the families of victims of crime whose cases had been affected by the letters.

The North Antrim MP also said that Mr Kelly should be formally investigated over how the letters were distributed and who had been asked for the letters.

Speaking in the assembly on Wednesday, Justice Minister David Ford said there were "real issues" arising from the inquest into the murder of Gareth O'Connor, and that he would be following up the case with the Chief Constable George Hamilton.

In response to a question from SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly, Mr Ford said: "I think there are real issues given that the dreadful murder of Gareth O'Connor was significantly after the Good Friday Agreement. I will certainly be expecting to follow up the issues with the chief constable when I am next speaking to him about general issues."

He also repeated that the Department of Justice had nothing to do with the On the Runs letters scheme.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), SDLP and Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) have all called for action, following the revelation that the suspect was given assurance he was not being sought by the authorities in relation to Mr O'Connor's murder in 2003.

Image caption A solicitor for Gareth O'Connor's family said the news about the letter came "as a complete surprise"

The government scheme for administering the letter was only supposed to apply to people wanted for paramilitary crimes committed before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The letters only came to light last February when the trial of John Downey for the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing was halted because he had mistakenly received one of those letters.

More than 200 people were told they were no longer wanted for paramilitary crimes committed before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

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