Pursuing Troubles crimes 'a waste' - Hain

Published Sunday, 02 March 2014
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Former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain has said pursuing those responsible for crimes during the Troubles "seems a waste" and that Tony Blair's government acted "honourably" over the controversial "on-the-run" letters.

Pursuing Troubles crimes 'a waste' - Hain
Mr Hain made the comments in a newspaper article. (© Getty)
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Writing in The Telegraph on Sunday, the Labour MP said deals were done with all sides for "the greater good of peace" and those involved in government during the process have nothing to hide.

He also said it was "risible" for politicians to claim they had no knowledge of the so-called comfort letters, which were sent to those who may be wanted to answer for crimes committed prior to the Good Friday Agreement.

In the past week controversy raged in Northern Ireland after the trial of John Downey, who was previously suspected of involvement in the London Hyde Park bombing in 1982, collapsed.

Mr Downey was informed by the PSNI in 2007 that there was no interest in him from them, or any other police force across the UK.

This proved to be inaccurate as it later transpired that the Metropolitan Police in London wanted to question Mr Downey, who has always denied involvement in the bombing.

First Minister Peter Robinson threatened to resign over the existence of the letters.

The DUP leader withdrew the threat when Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a judge-led inquiry into the process on Thursday.

In his Sunday Telegraph piece, Mr Hain dismissed the idea that the letters were effectively a "get out of jail" free card.

He also detailed what the letters sent to the so-called on-the-runs said.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been informed by the Attorney General that on the basis of the information currently available, there is no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there are no warrants in existence nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) are not aware of any interest in you from any other police force in the United Kingdom.

Letter sent to 'on-the-runs'

He added: "Crucially the letters state that if circumstances changed and offences came to light, they would be dealt with in the usual way.

"So much for 'get out of jail cards', immunity or amnesty."

He continued: "Resolving the issue of the 'on-the-runs' was absolutely essential in order to make progress in Northern Ireland.

"Without that, I do not think we would have arrived at the situation when, on my watch, on July 28 2005, the IRA declared a historic end to its war."

Mr Hain suggested that if a line was to be drawn on the past it must include ending the pursuit of paratroopers involved in Bloody Sunday and others responsible for crimes during the Troubles.

In the past week billboard advertisements were put up around Londonderry appealing for witnesses to contact the police about the 1972 atrocity which resulted in 14 deaths.

Police have said the public's response to their investigation has so far been "disappointing".

"Diverting police time to investigate Bloody Sunday soldiers or crimes from the Troubles seems a waste when the priority today should surely be tracking down the tiny, but dangerous, attacks from dissident IRA groups, as well as facilitating ordinary, plain community safety," Mr Hain said.

I remain of the view that Northern Ireland looks over its shoulder too much at the past, rather than to the future.

Peter Hain

Writing in the newspaper, the Labour MP said it was time - as the Eames-Bradley report and Richard Haass have argued - to find a comprehensive and inclusive way to deal with the past.

"Peace and stability was hard-won and must not be allowed to slip because of this controversy.

"I welcome the Prime Minister's review of the operation of the 'on-the-runs' scheme to make sure no errors were made.

"None of us on the government side have anything to hide. We acted honourably throughout.

"The peace settlement we delivered was designed to ensure that there are no more victims like those of Hyde Park.

"But settling old scores at the expense of that process will serve no victim."

Reacting, Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle Raymond McCartney said the comments were "ill-judged and ill-timed" following the Saville inquiry's findings and amid the ongoing PSNI investigation.

"Sinn Féin have always supported the families of those killed by the British army on Bloody Sunday.

"Some of those families wish to seek prosecution against those responsible for the death of their loved ones," he said.

© UTV News
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23 Comments
Disgusted Ulsterman in Belfast wrote (178 days ago):
Tony Blair wouldn't recognise anything 'honourable' even if it hit him up the face. He used Mr. Brown for his own ends, he used his so-called religion for his own ends then he converted to Catholicism to get his own ends in an European job. He has dealt in hush hush business all his days in politics then done a runner when the going got rough. I reckon you could say I never liked him.
Observer in Online wrote (179 days ago):
What an embarrassment this oaf Hain is. Even seeing the words "honourable" and "government" in the same sentence is a joke. I actually agree completely with republican in Belfast. Justice for all!
Dorothy in Kansas wrote (179 days ago):
Mark in Antrim and Steve in County Down... If you knew anything about Peter Hain's life and struggles in South Africa during the Apartheid Regime you really wouldn't have said what you said. Disagree with his opinion by all means, but don't accuse him of knowing nothing about personal pain
norman.d in bangor wrote (179 days ago):
Peter Hain is right even if anyone is taken to court they will only serve two years at most because of the peace process the parties signed up to and people voted for that let them all out of the maze prison on licence time to move on
culchy in the stix wrote (179 days ago):
Of course it's a waste of time, the British government will whitewash the whole thing, destroy any evidence and lie through their smiling teeth to avert blame and avoid international disrepute. Perhaps Sinn Fein would have more support if they also asked IRA men to give themselves up for their part? After all they murdered more of their own than the Brits and loyalists did. But Mr Hain is right when he says, "Northern Ireland looks over its shoulder too much at the past, rather than to the future." Then again, perhaps the British government should be looking over its shoulder more, the past has a way of coming back to haunt and their own isn't exactly lily white. If the past is ever to be resolved and the truth placed in the public forum, we need an independent inquiry into the Troubles, not one led by a judge on the payroll.
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