On the runs scandal was a long time coming

Morning View
Morning View

No-one who closely follows Westminster politics will be surprised at the former Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay’s assessment that most MPs at Westminster have little interest in Northern Ireland.

Mr MacKinlay, who represented Thurrock, in one of the most distant parts of the UK to the Province, does however take an interest in Northern Ireland.

His assessment of the on the runs affair is spot on.

First, Mr MacKinlay is correct to outline the background, of little scrutiny of Northern Ireland affairs by Parliament.

Second, he is obviously right to say that Tony Blair’s vast majority enabled him largely to do what he wanted during the decade of his premiership (with unhappy consequences in Iraq).

Most importantly, Mr MacKinlay is correct that the former Government misled Parliament over the letters of comfort to IRA fugitives. This is patently what happened.

And it was a long time in coming.

In the summer of 2001, after the Weston Park talks, the Irish and British governments published proposals that included a little-noticed ‘Paragraph 20’. which contained a proposal not to prosecute certain terrorist offences. It was generally interpreted as confined to prisoners who are ‘on the run’ and was then postponed amid concern that it would have led to an amnesty for all terrorist acts committed prior to April 1998.

But that is what many senior politicians wanted. Mr Hain at least now admits his desire for an end to Troubles prosecutions.

Mr MacKinlay is right to describe side deals as having been “made exclusively and in secret with Sinn Fein” and to be dismayed that Parliament was “contemptuously bypassed”.

Mr MacKinlay is also right that, contrary to the Hallett recommendations, recipients of Royal pardons should now be named.

It is refreshing that a former English Labour MP in a party that has always had a small minority of members who were ambivalent about republican terror, should be one of the parliamentarians who sees most closely the ugliness of the OTR affair.