Former IRA prisoners yesterday said “amnesty letters and Royal prerogatives have been known about for years in republican circles”.
The men, who asked not to be named, said news of “the letters and pardons were part of side deals done when they were putting the legislation through on on the runs”.
“The on the run issue was always there, but unionists might not have known they got the letters,” said one.
“I knew people who had left the north 30-years-ago, and then got the all-clear with the letter and were able to come back. People were left now knowing where they stood until the question was asked. They didn’t know what evidence has held against them.”
He said he understood that in some cases Sinn Fein members collected the letters and delivered them to the intended recipient.
“Unionists got deals as well with payouts to the UDR and RUC, although it’s not the same granted,” he said.
Another former prisoner said he would like to see the criteria to receive either an amnesty letter or a pardon “spelt out”.
“No one has ever clarified what the criteria is,” he said.
“There are two systems of government here - the assembly and the Executive which is the public face of government,” he added. “But there is also
a secret government running from the Northern Ireland Office which does these sorts of deals that usurp the local law.
“So you don’t have a truly democratic open accountable system of government which is understandable given our history. But at the end of the day, I would not be surprised if the government precipitated the crisis. They are capable of that.”
Another former prisoner said: “At the Gerry McGeough trial in 2012 the pardons were talked about. McGeough was charged with the attempted murder of Sammy Brush in 1981. He was released from prison last year having served about two years of his 20-year sentence, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.