Committee hits out at Kelly OTR stance

Committee hits out at Kelly OTR stance

The Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee has said it was "surprised and disappointed" Sinn Féin and Gerry Kelly refused to attend its public hearings over the 'on-the-runs' controversy and hit out at the North Belfast MLA's reasons for doing so.

Mr Kelly said, given the judge-led Hallett Inquiry ordered by the prime minister which Sinn Féin is participating with, the committee's hearings were "superfluous".He did however, say he would forward his submission to the Hallett Inquiry to the committee.Mr Kelly also said the committee was made up of political opponents of his party and that it was being used as a "mechanism" by the British government and some of the local parties to delay dealing with "aspects of the conflict and dealing with the past".He questioned why the committee had not examined numerous issues such as the government's refusal to hold an inquiry into the Pat Finucane murder, loyalist collusion, the Ballymurphy massacre and other issues.And the former IRA man also suggested the hearing would be used by committee members to make accusations against him under parliamentary privilege.We are left wondering if everything to do with the OTR scheme was legal, above board and in your view generally known about. Why object to discussing this matter with members of the committee?Laurence Robertson, MPHowever, in a stinging rebuke, chairman Laurence Robertson said the committee was "surprised and disappointed" Sinn Féin was willing to give oral evidence in private to a government-appointed inquiry, but not to do so in public in either Belfast or at Westminster" with their independent of government inquiry.The MP also said Sinn Féin's cooperation with Judge Hallett's work "reinforced the private, secretive nature of the scheme".He said the committee, like all others, was made up of people from opposing parties and there was "bound to be politically rivalry involved".However, he said he would welcome Sinn Féin to sit on the committee but realised, as an "unfortunate consequence" of the party's policy of not taking its seats in the commons, they were unable to do so.The chairman also said that Mr Kelly's assertion that the committee's make-up led to a politically partisan approach to conflict related issues, was "simply not the case" and that it was "disingenuous" to say political interests were the motivation behind the committee inquiry.In this inquiry we only seek the truth and we are disappointed that Sinn Féin do not appear to be willing to help us discover it.Laurence Robertson, MPHe said the OTR controversy was the only conflict-related issue undertaken by the committee under his chairmanship and that during his time the committee had focused on issues that would help the economy."[We] have only turned our attention to the OTR issue because of the considerable public demand that we do so," said Mr Robertson.He also said the conduct of the committee's members had been praised a number of times and that Sinn Féin members have had no problems appearing before the committee in the past.

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