Kate Hoey: Our report on the OTRs was no whitewash

Kate Hoey
Kate Hoey

The most ridiculous comment made after the publication earlier this week of the Northern Ireland Select committee’s report into the ‘On the Runs’ (OTRs) was from Gerry Kelly.

Rejecting the report he said it was politically driven by a committee of politicians all of whom oppose Sinn Fein.

How silly. Does he not know that MPs are politicians and a select committee comprises MPs from all parties? Indeed if Sinn Fein took their seats in Westminster the chances are that one of them could have been a member.

However they refuse just as they refused to come and give evidence. The fact that they gave evidence in secret to the Hallett Review but didn’t want to be grilled in public by our committee says it all.

During our year of hearings and visits many victims’ groups and individual victims came to listen. One who attended nearly all the evidence sessions in London was my old friend Aileen Quinton whose mother died in the terrible terrorist attack on those commemorating the fallen at the war memorial in Enniskillen on November 8 1987.

Aileen told me that she saw the committee hearings as a rare manifestation of victims and importantly justice in Northern Ireland mattering as opposed to the word “victims” being constantly trotted out by people who then acted against their interests.

She attended too as a gesture of support for our committee chairman Laurence Robertson who resisted pressure from the leadership of the Conservative and Labour Parties not to conduct an enquiry. “No need,” they said, “Hallett is going to look into it!”

But Hallett was not conducting her review in public and her terms of reference were very narrow.

So what did Aileen think of the report?

“Listening to the hours and hours of evidence,” she tells me, “I don’t think any fair minded person could have come to any conclusion other than that the scheme distorted the legal process and should never have existed. If it wasn’t actually unlawful then there is something amiss with the law.”

The committee concluded this too and went further by refusing to say as Hallett did that it was completely lawful.

Our report unanimously agreed that the availability of the scheme to only one section of the community and then only at the whim of one political party was counter to equality rules.

Aileen goes further. She says: “It was always clear and reinforced by Blair’s own evidence that he was the poodle of Sinn Fein. If Sinn Fein said Jump he would ask how high and is there anything I can get you when I am up there?

“His only constraint was not decency or respect for justice but merely what he could get away with and of course you get away with a lot more if you keep it secret. Hence the secrecy.”

The committee agreed that if the scheme had to exist (and we did not accept that the peace process was dependent on it) then it should have been formalised within the various agencies, with clear lines of reporting and accountabilities,and made public.

Aileen believes that it was deliberately designed to be unclear. A multi-agency approach would have needed co-ordination and transparency with everyone knowing everything. So it was too risky to set it up properly and to get parliamentary approval.

I am pleased that those who were hurt deeply by the OTR letters have accepted that our report was anything but a whitewash.

However this can’t be the end of the matter. Urgent legislation is needed to ensure that in future criminal justice procedures will not be compromised by the letters.

Those who say ‘Oh dear what a pity, but lets move on’ are wrong. Much more needs to be exposed before that can happen.

Our report was just the beginning.

• Kate Hoey is Labour MP for Vauxhall