Northern Ireland

IRA murder victim's relative speaks out about On the Run scheme

Shelley Gilfillan said it was like an "atomic bomb" going off when news of the letters became known
Image caption Shelley Gilfillan said it was like an "atomic bomb" going off when news of the letters became known

A relative of an IRA murder victim has spoken out about the controversy over the letters of assurance given to republican On the Runs.

Part-time UDR man Hugh 'Lexie' Cummings was shot dead by the IRA in 1982.

Two years ago, the DUP MP Jim Shannon used parliamentary privilege to accuse Gerry McMonagle, who later became the Sinn Féin mayor of Letterkenny, of the murder.

Shelley Gilfillan said her uncle's murder had been reviewed.

He was shot as he sat in his car in Strabane, County Tyrone, in June 1982.

She told the BBC's Spotlight programme that she did not know if Mr McMonagle had received one of the letters.

"In the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) report, it states where Sinn Fein gave the government a list and Gerry Mac (McMonagle) was on the list," she said.

Mr Cummings' murder was reviewed in 2003.

A political crisis erupted last week over secret letters sent by the government to 187 Irish republicans.

The letters assured those who received them that they were not being sought by police.

The political storm erupted after the trial of Donegal man John Downey collapsed at the Old Bailey last week.

Mr Downey denied killing four soldiers in the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Part-time UDR man Hugh 'Lexie' Cummings was shot dead by the IRA in 1982

The case collapsed because he was mistakenly told in a letter in 2007 that he was no longer a wanted man, despite the fact that police in Northern Ireland knew he was still being sought by Scotland Yard.

Although police soon realised they had made a mistake, the assurance was never withdrawn.

Prime Minister David Cameron told the Commons on Wednesday that Mr Downey should never have been sent the letter and that it had been a "dreadful mistake".

Ms Gilfillan described her shock when news of the letters became known.

"It was like an atomic bomb had went off. It was awful. I still can't take it in," she said.

"I still think perhaps this is a dream we're dreaming, this is something you read in a book or you see in a film, this is unbelievable that a government could actually do this to us.

"Such a dirty, dirty deal did Blair do."

On Monday, Northern Ireland's first minister suggested that police and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) may not have had the legal power to continue the On the Runs scheme after 2010.

That was the year when justice was devolved to Northern Ireland.

On the Runs are people suspected of paramilitary crimes connected to the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Mr Robinson, the leader of the Democratic Unionists, criticised the former Labour government and said former prime minister Tony Blair had engaged in "deliberate deception by omission" by failing to tell most politicians in Northern Ireland about the deal struck with Sinn Féin.

He had also threatened to resign unless a judicial inquiry into the On The Runs was held.

He withdrew his threat after Prime Minister David Cameron agreed there should be a judge-led inquiry into the matter.

Mr Robinson said the issue of whether the scheme was legal after 2010 may be one for the judge in the forthcoming inquiry as well as the attorney general.

The first minister said he intended to meet the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Secretary.

He said it was not up to the justice minister whether his department or the NIO administered the scheme; it was a matter of law.

The episode of Spotlight is available to watch on the iPlayer until 11 March

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