Victims warn of action over fugitive amnesty

 

The British Prime Minister has rejected criticism that a deal was being done to resolve the issue of paramilitary fugitives as IRA victims warned they could mount legal action to challenge any amnesty.

With speculation growing that the British government will announce soon its plan to address the problem of "on the runs", Mr Tony Blair told MPs during Prime Minister's Question Time the government would find a "sensible" way to deal with people who were not covered by the existing political settlement in Northern Ireland.

Responding to the suggestion by Conservative MP Mr Nigel Waterson, that a deal on fugitives had already been agreed, Mr Blair said: "It is not a question of a deal, it is a question of recognising, as we did in the Weston Park proposals, that there is an issue here with people who have been charged in some cases, in some cases convicted and who have been out of the country for a long period of time and yet who aren't covered by the existing process."

He added: "We will find a way to cover those people but we will do it in a way that is sensible . . . it's not a deal, it's a sensible issue that needs to be resolved."

Earlier, Ulster Unionist MP Mr Jeffrey Donaldson joined members of the organisation, Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) at a London press conference to condemn any amnesty for fugitives. He said it would be "unprecedented" if the British government set aside due process and granted an amnesty to terrorists.

FAIR is liaising with international human rights organisations about the possibility of challenging the British government under the European Convention on Human Rights if it goes ahead with the amnesty.

The vice-chairman of FAIR, Mr Sam Malcolmson, who was seriously injured while serving in the RUC, said that as a victim of terrorist violence he believed an amnesty was "highly insulting . . . it's the victims that are in exile, sitting at home in wheelchairs".

Mr William Frazer of FAIR, whose father was killed by the IRA in the 1970s, said an amnesty could not be allowed to go ahead. It is expected that up to 40 fugitives will form the basis of London's plans but Mr Frazer said the real number was about 500 people.