N. Ireland Politics

On the Runs: NI's chief constable and politicians react

Northern Ireland's chief constable and politicians have been giving their reaction to the Westminster report on the On The Runs scheme.

The Northern Ireland Affairs committee said the "one-sided, secretive scheme of letters" sent to over 180 Irish republicans should never have existed.

The On The Runs (OTRs) were republicans suspected of involvement in terrorist crimes but who had never been charged.

The scheme involved the provision of so-called "comfort letters" by the government designed to give them assurances that they were not being sought by police.

Ian Paisley, Democratic Unionist Party MP

"I do believe that we have given a voice to victims. They were able, through political representatives from all classes and creeds, to put questions to those who have to be held to account.

"I believe that we did a sterling job in holding those people to account.

"People did not believe we would get the former prime minister here or that we would get senior officials here. But we did.

"We asked the questions that had to be asked. We extracted an apology where an apology was necessary. We have come to robust conclusions. I hope that victims recognise that we have done this for them."

Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin MLA

"It is no surprise that this committee of politicians, all of whom oppose Sinn Féin, have brought out a report which is basically attacking Sinn Féin.

"I think I should point out that all of the parties who were represented on this committee were there when the public announcement was made in 2001 that the OTRs situation was going to be sorted out.

"[The scheme] was a commitment given by both governments and then we tried to follow that through.

"They knew about this. To say that they did not know what was going on is a falsehood. This was set up as a political attack on Sinn Féin."

George Hamilton, Police Service of Northern Ireland chief constable

"I welcome the report's acknowledgement that police carried out their task with appropriate diligence during the early years of the scheme.

"I also welcome the report's acknowledgement that speeding up the scheme in 2007 made it more difficult for thorough and competent reviews to be carried out and that the PSNI [Police Service of Northern Ireland] knew nothing about the content of letters sent to suspects until December 2011.

"The report recommends that our current review of OTRs cases is not a normal policing role and, as such, should be provided with additional funds to ensure the work is undertaken swiftly. Work has started on the 36 cases, however the thorough review work which is needed will require both time and resources.

"I want to once again apologise to the victims of the Hyde Park bomb attack and their families for the mistakes which occurred in the case of John Downey which led to his criminal trial being aborted last year. I apologise unreservedly for the mistakes and errors made by PSNI during the administrative process."

Theresa Villiers, Northern Ireland secretary

"The scheme was not run properly, it wasn't managed properly, there were severe systemic failings.

"I have apologised on behalf of the government for the hurt that this whole episode has caused to victims, but I would emphasise very strongly that it was not an amnesty, it didn't give anyone an amnesty.

"Had this government inherited such an amnesty scheme, we would have stopped it immediately.

"Also, I want to emphasise that this scheme is at an end. No-one should rely on these letters in the future."

Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP leader

"Today's report is a further indictment of how a British government and Sinn Féin colluded together to defeat due process and cause hurt and offence to victims and survivors.

"The OTRs episode is a disturbing insight into the lengths some in London would go to in order to pacify Sinn Féin. It was a joint enterprise to derail justice, truth and the needs of victims and survivors.

"By engaging in side deals, Sinn Féin and the British government have betrayed Irish democracy.

"One response to clear the smog and smell of secrecy around these deals is to restore transparency, accountability and the primacy of victims in all future processes."

Ivan Lewis, shadow Northern Ireland secretary and Labour MP

"Today's report confirms there were serious errors made in the Downey case and identifies other weaknesses in the scheme's implementation.

"I want to reiterate my apology to the families of the Hyde Park victims for the catastrophic error made in the Downey case.

"However, the scheme has to be judged in the context of a peace process which ended 30 years of brutality, violence and tragedy.

"Peace and stability would never have been possible without the willingness of Northern Ireland's leaders to make painful compromises, and the sustained commitment of a Labour government."

Naomi Long, Alliance Party MP

"This did, whether it was intended to or not, distort the legal process. At best, that has caused uncertainty with respect to future prosecutions; at worst, it has created an ambiguity which could actually see guilty people walk free.

"I, personally, don't believe that the government set out to create an amnesty, but I do believe that in the way that they handled the scheme, it, in effect, became an amnesty in at least one case and, perhaps, more.

"For us, we have certainly learned that the victims felt that the secrecy itself was almost more hurtful than the scheme. There are lessons in that for future governments."

Tom Elliott, Ulster Unionist Party MLA

"The findings clearly indicate that both the British and Irish governments were complicit in an underhand deal to appease Sinn Féin.

"Underhand in that Sinn Féin pressed this case from the start; underhand in that none of the other Northern Ireland parties was aware of it; underhand in the sense that the Republic of Ireland government pressed and pressed very strongly the United Kingdom government to actually progress this matter.

"[The British] government did not even have the respect and decency to inform the other parties in Northern Ireland. To say that we are extremely disappointed and annoyed is an understatement.

"I now call on the government to name those in receipt of these letters and to take all necessary steps, including legislation, to ensure the letters have no legal effect and to enable prosecutions to take place."

Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice leader

"The report is welcome, though disappointing in parts, most particularly the failure to agree a demand for the publication of all recipients of OTR letters.

"The report confirms the atrocious and underhand political meddling in the criminal justice system, which the OTR scandal represents.

"Let the PSNI evidence that 95 of the OTRs are suspected of 300 murders never be forgotten as indicating the magnitude of what was undertaken by government for the political purpose of placating Sinn Féin.

"Tony Blair, as chief architect of this sordid and concerted assault on due process, is let off too lightly by the committee, though they are explicit in exposing the public deception which lay at the heart of this nefarious process. This was the skulduggery of 'the peace process' in action."

Kate Hoey, Labour MP

"One single aim is to ensure that the victims do feel that they have been listened to.

"We are saying that we may well need legislation to ensure that the letters that have gone out have no legal effect.

"It is important for the community in Northern Ireland to realise that we have accepted that this scheme was one-sided - it was very much for one section of the community, even then it was only effectively at the whim of one political party who took all the letters."

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