KATE HOEY: Tony Blair must be accountable

Kate Hoey
Kate Hoey

The members of the Northern Ireland Select committee including myself have been conducting an inquiry into “On the Runs” for many months.

We are seeking to discover the truth of how the policy to send out letters informing those on the run that they were not wanted by the police came about.

We also want to know who knew what and when and why others including some party leaders were kept in the dark. We are eager to complete the inquiry, and I know the Northern Ireland public want to hear our conclusions.

Unlike Lady Justice Hallett’s inquiry we sit in public and not in secret.

This was especially important when we listened to many victims telling us their reactions when they first heard about the letters and the pardons.

During the past months we have taken evidence from many important witnesses — past and present Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, civil servants, police, and even Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell.

The one person from whom we have not heard is Tony Blair — the ex Prime Minister

Since 12th March, our Committee Chairman Lawrence Robertson MP has written to Mr Blair on numerous occasions, formally asking him to give evidence.

We have asked his office for dates by letter, email, telephone and offered him a video link, but he has refused to appear.

His busy schedule is the excuse.

He has offered to provide written evidence.

News Letter readers will appreciate that formal testimony is only a part of evidence; we need to be able to challenge and ask supplementary questions as we have with other distinguished witnesses, all of whom also have busy diaries.

He also tells us he spoke to the Hallett inquiry and would have nothing further to add.

But we have lots to explore with him, much having arisen as a result of others evidence.

His reluctance to appear is fundamentally a question of accountability.

When in office, a Prime Minister is held to account by Parliament, at weekly Question Time in the House of Commons, in front of specialised Select Committees, and when making announcements and statements in front of MPs.

Out of office, they must still be able to be questioned on historical decisions that continue to have consequences.

They cannot simply leave this up to the judgements of history, especially if decisions were kept secret at the time.

As Members of Parliament, we seek to scrutinise policy, but how is this possible when the facts are not made public until those responsible have left Parliament?

It is not as if Mr Blair is infirm or in blissful retirement.

He continues to be politically active, with a large publicly funded bodyguard travelling everywhere with him.

He negotiates, promotes and enjoys a high profile existence as the Middle East Peace Envoy, but this does not mean that he can abandon his past record.

Indeed, since his credentials for his current job were his prominence in the peace process in Northern Ireland, analysis of his performance here is directly relevant to his hopes for peace there.

After his repeated refusals to appear, the committee has finally summoned Mr Blair to come before us on Wednesday 14th January.

This is a legal injunction from the High Court of Parliament so he would be very unwise to refuse.

Mr Blair must acknowledge that he has a responsibility to be accountable for his actions.

He must appear before the committee so that we can question him on behalf of victims who just want the truth.

Shedding light on the past in a transparent way should never harm political negotiations.

Only those who have something to hide fear scrutiny.