The Irish government has privately denied there was an amnesty for IRA killers operating in the Republic for more than a decade.
But families and survivors of the worst single atrocity of the Troubles are demanding a public statement about claims by former justice minister Michael McDowell that a blind eye was turned to Provo fugitives.
A government official has told Margaret Urwin, of Justice for Forgotten, which is campaigning for the truth about the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, that various attempts were made to deal with the on-the-runs issue during the peace process.
In a letter, the Department of Justice civil servant said Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald was aware of Mr McDowell’s remarks but said the Garda will pursue any evidence in relation to Troubles-related offences.
The official says many attempts were made to strike a deal about fugitives but insists there is no question of an amnesty being in place in the Irish Republic.
But Ms Urwin is demanding a public statement from the Dublin government about the high-level claims.
“We are seeking definitive clarification about this,” she said.
“The person who made these remarks is not just some ordinary member of the public. It’s a former attorney general and a former minister for justice.
“This was a person who was right at the heart of government.”
Asked about the on-the-runs controversy in Northern Ireland and Britain, Mr McDowell said there was “a consensus” in the Republic dating back at least 14 years ago that the Garda would no longer be prosecuting historical cases.
He said: “In fact what happened in the Republic was that there was just a decision by the guards to use their resources to prevent current crime and current offences and not to go back over the IRA’s campaign of violence.”
Ms Urwin said Mr McDowell was at the heart of justice in the Republic – both as justice minister and attorney general, the state’s chief legal advisor – for eight years.
“He’s hardly likely to make these remarks unless there is some truth in them,” she said.
“We also note the absence of any public rebuttal of his remarks by the current government or indeed by his former colleagues who served alongside him in government.
“Nobody has come out publicly and said this was never the case.
“We would like to see a public statement being made by the government about this.”
Ms Urwin has written again to the Irish government asking if there was any unofficial arrangement with Garda chiefs about paramilitary fugitives as part of a deal to secure peace in the North.
Separately, Austin Stack, the son of Brian Stack who was the only prison officer murdered in the Republic during the conflict, said he will vigorously press one of the country’s most senior police chiefs about the claims this week.
Mr Stack, an assistant governor at Wheatfield Prison, is meeting with Garda assistant commissioner Derek Byrne about the investigation into the killing of his father, who died after being shot by the IRA in Dublin in 1983.
“We will be asking him was there some sort of agreement between the government and the Garda that historic cases would not be looked at again in order to protect the on-the-runs,” he said.
“We want to know exactly what was the Garda position on this.
“If (Mr) McDowell has said this, then there was obviously some sort of an agreement with Sinn Fein not to pursue historical cases.”
Mr Stack said gardai were annoyed when a long-standing arrest warrant for Gerard “Dickie” O’Neill – the alleged former head of the Provisional IRA in the South – was cancelled in court in 2006.
He has been living openly in Alicante in Spain.
The eight-year-old Garda warrant, which was regularly renewed, was cancelled after an application by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the Special Criminal Court.
O’Neill was suspected of being in charge of the IRA’s southern command in the mid-1990s when Detective Garda Jerry McCabe was murdered during a botched raid on a postal van at Adare, Co Limerick.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has written to Taoiseach Enda Kenny seeking a face-to-face meeting along with victims’ families about claims of a de facto amnesty in the Republic.
The letter has been acknowledged and he is awaiting a further response, he said.