On the Runs report leaves mess to clear up

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Media captionMPs described the scheme as "questionably unlawful"

The problem with secret deals is they always carry the whiff of something that was meant to be hidden.

This report by a committee of MPs questions whether the On the Runs scheme was even legal.

But it makes very clear that it should always have been open to public scrutiny - perhaps then the mistakes that stopped a murder trial from taking place would never have been made.

Securing a successful peace process is always difficult after years of conflict.

In Northern Ireland, many people were upset when paramilitaries were released early from prison as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

But that was an open arrangement. Members of the then Labour government and Sinn Féin have insisted time and time again that they did not deliberately keep people in the dark about the OTR scheme.

However, it would be hard to argue that the glare of publicity shone anywhere near it for many years. That has certainly changed.

Questions left hanging

There is now a mess to clear up and the committee says that is the current government's responsibility.

It wants cases reassessed, extra resources for police investigations and an assurance that the letters will have no future effect, even if that requires legislation.

But amid the criticism the report also leaves questions hanging.

Why wouldn't the Northern Ireland Secretary say which of the recipients of an OTR letter were effectively pardoned by being given a royal prerogative of mercy? The MPs say her silence was "wholly unacceptable".

And perhaps most seriously of all, what "new evidence" would be needed to allow a trial to go ahead in the cases of suspects who were given assurances? Security force intelligence has after all now linked 95 people who received letters to up to 300 murders.

The parliamentary committee says parts of the government and the criminal justice system have been "damaged" by the Downey case.

Further damage needs to be avoided.

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