McDowell wanted royal pardon for ‘household name’ IRA suspects

Former justice minister Michael McDowell privately appealed for "household name" IRA suspects to be granted royal pardons.

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

Documents uncovered in the furore over the controversial on-the-runs scheme show he told his British counterpart Gareth Williams that the British government should use the contentious measure during a critical stage in the fledgling peace process.

Confirming his approach, Mr McDowell told the Press Association both governments were trying to bring top republicans “in from the cold” at the time.

“Neither the Shinners (Sinn Féin) 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 (Williams) said there were legal reasons they couldn’t and that was the end of that.”

Mr McDowell said his knowledge of the law of pardon brought him to the suggestion, as an alternative to legislation which would have run into difficulties.

“There was discussion as to what the consequences would be if there were people who came in from the cold to the political system,” he said.

“People who were liable for arrest. That was the issue,” Mr McDowell said.

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