Dublin officials pass the buck in response to query over names

Solicitor John McBurney
Solicitor John McBurney

The Republic’s government has failed to explain why it was providing names of on the runs as part of the controversial letters scheme.

Officials in Dublin yesterday engaged in a buck-passing exercise when contacted for answers on what exactly its involvement had been.

In the dense 53-page judgment issued in the wake of the Downey case’s collapse, Justice Sweeney recorded that a briefing note from the Northern Ireland Office, dated September 2002, had said that 162 names of on the runs had been provided by Sinn Fein, whilst the Prison Service had come up with 10 – and the Irish government had added two.

It is believed those individuals may have received some of the now infamous ‘letters of comfort’.

Asked yesterday why the two individuals’ names had been supplied, the Republic’s Department of Foreign Affairs said: “Thanks for your query. It should be addressed to our Department of Justice.”

This was done accordingly, and the response from Department of Justice was as follows: “Please contact the Department of Foreign Affairs in relation to your query.”

John McBurney, a solicitor who has worked for Peter Robinson and Ian Paisley, had raised questions late last week about just what the Irish government’s involvement was, after coming across the paragraphs in Justice Sweeney’s judgment.

In the wake of yesterday’s responses from Dublin, he said: “It’s surprising that they’re not even prepared to indicate that they did advance two names to receive these letters.

“And if that is not correct in the judgment they should be clarifying that urgently.

“If it is correct in that part of the judgment, then they should be explaining why they felt to actively become involved in the process.”

Despite his concerns over what has emerged in the last week, Mr McBurney yesterday remained steadfast in his stance that, in legal terms, the letters do not spell out-and-out amnesties for those who were receiving them, and should not be read as such.