Unionists’ threats to collapse the Stormont administration over a Government scheme to deal with on-the-run republicans are an attempt to distract from the fact they knew the process existed, Martin McGuinness has claimed.
Responding to Democratic Unionist (DUP) First Minister Peter Robinson’s threat to resign over the issue - a move that would trigger an Assembly election - the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister insisted such drastic action would achieve nothing.
“I think Peter is well aware of my view that this is a time for steady leadership, this is a time for calm nerves, this is a time for solutions to the present scenario we find ourselves,” he said.
“This is certainly not the time - though I don’t fear it at all - for an election.”
Mr McGuinness said he would never voluntarily walk away from the devolved institutions.
“I will never resign,” he said after meeting Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers to discuss the issue.
Details of 187 letters sent to so-called on-the-run republicans (OTRs), assuring them they would not be prosecuted if they returned to Northern Ireland, emerged when a case against a man charged with the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bomb collapsed.
But DUP claims that it was unaware of the deal between the Government and Sinn Fein on OTRs have been questioned after it emerged that a senior Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer briefed members of the PSNI’s scrutiny body - the NI Policing Board - on elements of the scheme in 2010, albeit without mention of the letters.
DUP members were present at the Policing Board meeting. The issue was also mentioned in the high-profile 2009 Eames-Bradley report on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.
Mr McGuinness said: “I think that the angst among unionist politicians is more centred around the common belief out there in society and in the media that they knew all about this.
“They may not have known about the letters, but they knew about the scheme and they knew that these people who were described as on-the-runs were being processed.
“I think that’s where the annoyance comes from.”