Saturday 20 July 2019

Ahern backed amnesty deal for IRA fugitives, letter reveals

Tony Blair with Bertie Ahern in 2008
Tony Blair with Bertie Ahern in 2008

Michael McHugh and Fionnan Sheahan

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern urged former British prime minister Tony Blair to grant an amnesty to named IRA fugitives, a letter has revealed.

In the correspondence, Mr Ahern said there was a strong case for not proceeding on outstanding warrants relating to offences during the Troubles against the 'On The Run' (OTR) suspects. Those covered would have been released from prison, had they already been convicted, under the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The letter was published by a committee of Westminister MPs, which is conducting an investigation into the alleged amnesty for the IRA suspects.

The probe comes after suspected IRA Hyde Park bomber John Downey walked free from court earlier this year when his prosecution over the murders of four soldiers in the 1982 attack was halted by a judge after he received one of the letters in error.

The revelations strengthen the claim by former justice minister Michael McDowell that an effective amnesty from prosecution was in place in the Republic at the time.

In the December 1999 letter, Mr Ahern stated: "The named persons are very strong supporters of the agreement and with full freedom of movement will be able to play an even more effective role, within the republican constituency in Northern Ireland and in this state, in persuading and leading those who might otherwise be sceptical towards an unqualified embrace of democratic politics and of exclusively peaceful means of promoting progress towards political objectives."

The deal on the OTRs effectively formed an unofficial part of the Belfast Agreement to achieve acceptance among paramilitary groups.

Mr Ahern said: "I write to confirm my view and that of my Government that on grounds of public policy, related to the full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, there is a strong case for deciding that the relevant authorities will not proceed further now, or during the continuation of a complete and unequivocal ceasefire, in regard to certain outstanding warrants or any proceedings that may be subsequently contemplated in all the relevant jurisdictions in Ireland and in the UK."

Mr Ahern's letter was referring to individuals whose identities were withheld. "Such a decision will be of particularly strong beneficial effect in... promoting the implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement," he wrote.

The Westminster committee is holding an inquiry into the scheme formulated by the previous British Labour government at the request of Sinn Fein that saw about 200 letters sent to OTRs assuring them they were not being pursued by the British authorities.

Irish Independent

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