Sunday 21 December 2014

McDowell wanted royal pardon for 'on the run' suspects

Michael McHugh and Brian Hutton

Published 19/07/2014 | 02:30

Michael McDowell
Michael McDowell

FORMER justice minister Michael McDowell privately appealed for fugitive IRA suspects to be granted royal pardons.

The arch-critic of Sinn Fein and the Provos who once compared the republican movement to Nazis was the attorney general at the time.

Documents uncovered in the row over the controversial on-the-runs (OTR) scheme show he told his British counterpart Lord Williams that the UK government should use the contentious measure during a critical stage in the fledgling peace process.

On Thursday, the findings of a judge-led review into the OTR scheme described it as lawful and not an amnesty.

Mr McDowell said both governments were trying to bring top republicans "in from the cold" at the time.

Consequences

"Neither the Shinners (Sinn Fein) nor the Brits were very happy with the idea so that was the end of it," he said.

The face-to-face meeting took place in London in November 2000. Mr McDowell said he suggested the royal pardon be used for a handful of "household names" suspected of IRA activities who were deemed critical to peace efforts, rather than a general scheme.

"They (the British government) said there were difficulties with particular people – and it was only a handful of people they were talking about.

"I said why can't you use the prerogative of mercy, the royal pardon. He (Lord Williams) said there were legal reasons they couldn't and that was the end of that. There was discussion as to what the consequences would be if there were people who came in from the cold to the political system. People who were liable for arrest. That was the issue."

Mr McDowell's suggestion was revealed in a UK government memo, which said: "Our attorney subsequently advised that, as a matter of law, the power, though not used since the 19 (sic) Century, probably still existed. But he noted that reviving it would be highly contentious and there could be no certainty about what view the courts would take."

Irish Independent

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