MPs could name IRA members who got ‘comfort letters’

MPs at Westminster heard about the recent bomb at the Everglades Hotel during a debate this week.
MPs at Westminster heard about the recent bomb at the Everglades Hotel during a debate this week.

A Westminster inquiry into the “letters of comfort” to IRA fugitives could see those who received the letters named.

Setting out terms of reference which are so extensive that they make the judge-led inquiry announced by the Prime Minister appear tame by comparison, the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee said that it would also examine the use of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to pardon those on the run from justice.

The committee – which last week agreed to hold an inquiry into the administrative scheme which involved the NIO, police, prosecutors and the British attorney general – said that it would “shortly” begin public evidence sessions.

It invited members of the public to submit written evidence “on any aspect of the matter”.

The committee highlighted 15 areas which it would explore. Among those are:

• The legal status and legal implications of the scheme;

• Involvement by HM Government, other governments, the Attorney General’s Office, the Armed Forces, police services, the Public Prosecution Service for NI, and any others, and any advice sought by them;

• Accountability to Parliament about the scheme, and the political implications of the scheme;

• People on the scheme;

• The impact of the scheme on victims and relatives;

• The current situation regarding the scheme and on the runs;

• Any other related matters.

The committee’s chairman, Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, said that its members were “unanimously” determined to investigate the scheme as the terms of reference for the judge-led inquiry were “too narrow” and its hearings would be in private.

Last week, Mr Robertson told the News Letter that the committee — which unlike the judge-led inquiry has the power to compel witnesses — may ask for evidence from Tony Blair, Peter Hain, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

When asked by the BBC on Sunday whether Sinn Fein members would willingly go to the committee if called, Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey suggested that they would and highlighted that members of the party “have members in Westminster virtually every day”, even though they refuse to take their seats.

The DUP, which has two MPs on the committee, has welcomed its investigation.

However, at the time when the Government set up the judge-led inquiry, prompting Peter Robinson to withdraw his threat to resign as First Minister, he said that it had “satisfied” his demands and said he was “happy with the terms of reference that have since been set out”.

Alliance’s East Belfast MP Naomi Long, who is a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said that she hoped the two inquiries would be able to “shed some light” on what she described as a “murky situation”.