by Kevin Meagher
Sabres are the only weapons that have never been decommissioned in Northern Ireland. The reward for Peter Robinson rattling his, has been the creation of a “judge-led” review of how the British Government has been dealing with Irish republican “On-The-Runs” for the past decade.
This follows the collapse of the Old Bailey trial last month against John Downey, charged with the IRA’s Hyde Park bombing in 1982 in which four soldiers were killed. It brought to light the scheme by which 180 or so republicans like Downey who had evaded the authorities were sent letters confirming, in effect, that they would not be prosecuted on returning home to Northern Ireland.
For republicans, this is merely an extension of the prisoner release programme which took place after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 and no big deal. For Robinson, it amounts to a secret deal letting untried killers off the hook – and Ulster unionism doesn’t let any chance to yell “sell out” pass it by.
Yet what the government has conceded is a long way short of the “full judicial review” (a la Lord Saville’s inquiry into Bloody Sunday) that Robinson initially called for last Wednesday. According to the published terms of reference, the as yet unnamed judge will be tasked with producing “a full public account of the operation and extent” of the policy for dealing with On the Runs and to “determine whether any letters sent through the scheme contained errors”.