OTR BILL OPPOSED
Sinn Fein has withdrawn its support for the British government's
controversial Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, which deals with
the issue of individuals on-the-run (OTRs) from outstanding
The move marks a recognition of growing concern among
nationalists that the legislation, currently passing through the
British parliament, has been deceptively extended to include an
amnesty for members of the British Crown forces as well as
unionist paramilitaries still engaged in sectarian violence.
As he led a delegation of victims' groups to meet British Direct
Ruler Peter Hain, Sinn Fein vice-president, Pat Doherty, said the
legislation was too far removed from an agreement with the
British government during negotiations in 2001 which would have
enabled republicans who have been on the run for decades to
The West Tyrone MP said: "We are now calling for it to be
rejected and we are withdrawing from anything to do with it".
Mr Doherty also revealed they would be advising on-the-run
republicans not to seek registration under the legislation should
it go through.
The move marked a recognition of growing concern that the bill
included an agenda to give an effective amnesty to members of the
British Crown forces guilty of state murder. Unionist
paramilitaries still engaged in sectarian violence could also
have seen their past wiped clean.
Under the legislation, the British government envisaged people
who have been living abroad to avoid arrest, or people suspected
of murders before the Good Friday Agreement, applying to a
certification commissioner to ensure they are not sent to prison
if they set foot in the North.
Any individual facing a possible prosecution would be issued with
a certificate guaranteeing they would not be arrested. However,
a special tribunal could still deliver a guilty verdict, with the
accused being "freed" under a revokable licence.
Urging the British government to scrap the legislation, Mr
Doherty said: "There are no British ground forces on the run.
"It was sleight of hand and inexcusable to bring that aspect into
the legislation. It was not agreed at Weston Park, and it is not
acceptable and needs to be rejected."
Mr Doherty said Sinn Fein had been in contact with many of those
on the run before making the decision to reject the legislation.
The rival nationalist SDLP and unionists are also calling for the
abandonment of the Bill.
However, British officials have given no indication the bill
would be withdrawn.
A spokesman said: "There is no other vehicle for dealing with
OTRs, and Sinn Fein is deluding itself if it thinks there is."
Meanwhile, the Dublin government has said it will withdraw its
plans to grant pardons to 'on-the-runs' in the 26 Counties if
British legislation on the same issue is not enacted.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan exchanged scathing criticism with Sinn
Fein, accusing republicans of selling out the victims of state
collusion with unionist paramilitaries.
"The deal by Sinn Fein and the British government at Hillsborough
in 2003 covered 'all scheduled offences'. This includes state
murders," said the Derry MP.
"It is there in a public document for all to see. That is what
Sinn Fein signed up to. The question is, why has it taken Sinn
Fein a month-and-a-half to come out against this legislation?
"Why did Conor Murphy fly over to Westminster to welcome it - the
day after Peter Hain made clear that it applied to state killers?
"Why did Martin McGuinness accuse the SDLP of being 'naive' in
saying that state killers should not be covered?
"Who is naive now Martin?"
McGuinness in turn accused Durkan of "distortion, dishonesty and
He said the comments by the SDLP leader were "despicable", and
attempt to attack Sinn Fein for everything that happens
"regardless of the facts".
"The reality is that the British state orchestrated state killing
through collusion. The British state continues to cover-up
collusion. The same British state agencies operated the spy-ring
at Stormont and brought the political institutions down.
"And what is the SDLP response? They blame Sinn Fein.
"The current SDLP interest in collusion is in stark contrast to
their silence when collusion was bringing death and suffering to
many families. The SDLP failed to raise this issue in Westminster
or in Europe. In fact, when victims of collusion lobbied MPs at
Westminster and MLAs the SDLP, including Mark Durkan ignored
"How does Mark Durkan explain that. Not one SDLP MLA turned up to
meet the victims of collusion.
"Yet now they accuse Sinn Fein which was a primary target of the
death squads of collusion to hide the truth. That is a barefaced
Mr McGuinness pointed out that he had lost friends and colleagues
as a result of collusion "at a time when the SDLP was supporting
the RUC and dismissing collusion as Sinn Fein propaganda.
"The SDLP record in tackling the issue of collusion is abysmal
when compared with Sinn Fein's. The reality is that the SDLP
through heir support for the PSNI and their membership of the
policing Board are now part of the policing establishment."