Collusion 'amnesty' provokes clash
A vote on the OTRs bill was passed at its second reading in the
London parliament amid continuing controversy over the
The legislation was designed to tackle the anomaly of qualifying
republicans facing jail despite the release in recent years of
those imprisoned during the conflict under the 1998 Good Friday
But concern has mounted in recent days that the British
government is trying to create an amnesty for state agents and
officials who were involved in state collusion with unionist
death squads and other illegal activities.
Under the legislation, anyone facing the prospect of a
conflict-related prosecution from before the signing of the Good
Friday Agreement in 1998 can avail of the proposed special
judicial procedure to avoid the possibility of imprisonment.
At the end of a six-hour debate at Westminster, an opposition
amendment was defeated by 313 votes to 258, a majority of 55. The
main motion was carried by 310 votes to 262.
Sinn Fein has opposed the inclusion of British state forces in
the current legislation, but remains the only party in the North
backing the bill. The nationalist SDLP has mounted a strong
attack on Sinn Fein on the issue.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan has alleged that extending the
legislation to the British security forces was a "calculated
trade-off" to allow IRA 'on the runs' (OTRs) to return to the
"This is the result of a squalid sort of deal by people who have
interests in common about covering up the past. This legislation
is designed to deny victims justice," he said.
"Gerry Adams claimed that Sinn Fein did not know that this
legislation was going to extend to killers and other criminal
people inside crown forces. Gerry Adams did know. Sinn Fein
Mr Durkan was dismissive of Mr Adams's opposition to this new
element of the legislation. "If Gerry Adams is serious about his
objections to these aspects of the Bill he will join all the
other Northern Ireland parties in asking the British government
to withdraw this Bill," he said.
Both Sinn Fein and British officials have confirmed that the
original proposals negotiated at Weston Park in 2001 did not
include members of British state forces.
Families of collusion victims have been deeply angered by the
attempts of the British government "to use the on-the-run
legislation to provide an escape clause for their agents involved
in the murder of our relatives and friends," according to Robert
McClenaghan of anti-collusion group, An Fhirinne.
"Those who reorganised and rearmed the UDA, UVF and Ulster
Resistance have never been on-the-run from anyone. In fact, many
still hold senior positions in the NIO, the British army, the
PSNI and the British government itself."
Sinn Fein Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness accused the SDLP of
cynically using the victims of state violence to score cheap
Mr McGuinness said the position on the legislation was "crystal
"Sinn Fein did not support, propose, discuss or accept that
members of the British state forces should be part of the
process. For this reason we did not argue for an amnesty."
"Sinn Fein are opposed to the inclusion of British state forces
in the current legislation. In our view it represents the latest
attempt by the British state to conceal the truth about its
involvement in the killing of citizens. This proposal is not part
of any agreement with Sinn Fein or indeed as the Taoiseach
pointed out in the Dail on Wednesday with the Irish government
Mr McGuinness said that when collusion policy was at its height
"it was our party activists who were a primary target in this
policy of state murder. When Sinn Fein raised the issue of
collusion publicly the SDLP dismissed it as 'republican
* Belfast Crown Court judge Mr Justice McLaughlin said Michael
Rogan had "no case to answer" in regard to the 1996 bomb attack
by the IRA at Thiepval barracks.
Rogan was re-arrested last November in Tenerife after spending
seven years on the run.
Mr Justice McLaughlin told the court that although he had
prepared a judgement setting out his reasons for the acquittals,
it was not yet ready to be delivered but added that it would be
"handed down in the near future".