No letters sent in Republic, says Government
Scheme considered but Downey-type assurances not issued to republicans
John Downey: the case against him collapsed in court in London this week when it emerged he was one of nearly 200 republican paramilitaries who had received letters from the British government telling them they were not facing prosecution
The Government has confirmed that no letters of the kind provided in Northern Ireland were issued to on-the-run republicans informing them they would not face prosecution for offences committed during the Troubles.
The Department of Justice said such a scheme was considered and it related to the small number of cases that might involve such republican paramilitaries in the South.
The department said that on-the-runs played a major part in discussions over the years as part of efforts to ensure the institutions provided for under the Belfast Agreement were successfully established.
“The British government introduced legislation towards the end of 2005. And the Irish government indicated it was committed to advancing proposals in tandem in relation to the very small number of cases that might arise here.
“As it happened, the UK legislation was not proceeded with, and, accordingly, no arrangements had to be put in place here. We had no equivalent to the administrative scheme put in place by the Northern Ireland Office and, accordingly, did not issue letters of the kind in question in the John Downey case,” the department said.
The case against Mr Downey collapsed in court in London this week when it emerged he was one of nearly 200 republican paramilitaries who had received letters from the British government telling them they were not facing prosecution.
In a separate statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it was not involved in the process which led to the letters being issued.
“However, we have monitored the Downey case very closely, including through the Embassy of Ireland in London, which provided consular assistance to Mr Downey. This included attendance by representatives of the Irish Embassy at court hearings relating to his case.”
The department said it did not wish to comment on the specifics of the London court judgment. But it was its view that it further underlined the urgency of making progress in the talks between the party leaders in Northern Ireland. In particular, it emphasised the need to establish “more effective arrangements for dealing with the past and for addressing the needs of victims”.
Pivotal issue of prisoners
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said yesterday that the issue of OTRs was a focus of the negotiations that culminated in the Belfast
Agreement and there was a sense that nobody wanted the process of establishing institutions to break down.
It is understood that there was a general recognition at about the time of the Belfast Agreement that prisoner issues needed to be confronted. This committed the British and Irish governments to providing for the accelerated release of prisoners affiliated to organisations supportive of the peace process, principally the Provisional IRA.
In addition to prisoners released in the North, all republican prisoners in the South who qualified under the terms of the Belfast Agreement were freed by the end of December 2000.
The two governments later began to address the issue of OTRs, including those who were the subject of outstanding prosecutions or extradition requests.
Sinn Féin argued that if they had been caught and prosecuted earlier, they would have qualified for early release under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.