North first minister Peter Robinson has lifted his threat to resign over thecontroversy about on-the-run republicans after accepting the terms of a judicial review into the issue announced by British prime minister David Cameron.
The Democratic Unionist leader stepped back from the brink after claiming assurances he had received from the British government about letters sent to more than 180 individuals — advising them they could return to Northern Ireland without fear of prosecution — had rendered them effectively “worthless”.
In response to Mr Cameron’s announcement, Mr Robinson said: “I very much welcome the judge-led inquiry that he announced and I am happy with the terms of reference that have since been set out in the government statement.”
As well as commissioning the review, the British government said it would be making clear to all those who had received a letter in the past, as part of a deal Sinn Féin struck with the previous Labour administration, that if evidence nowexisted, or emerged in the future, which linked them to an offence they could bequestioned or prosecuted.
Mr Robinson claimed that move represented a fundamental change to how the scheme had operated before. “I think that makes it clear that they have a fairly worthless piece of paper. I think there will be a lot of on-the-runs who will sleep less easy tonight.”
Mr Robinson said he now had no need to tender his resignation. I do not intend to resign, on the basis that if you get what you want why on earth would you want to resign,” he said.
Details of 187 letters sent to so-called on-the-run republicans (OTRs), assuring them that they would not be prosecuted if they returned to Northern Ireland, emerged when the case against a man charged with the 1982 IRA Hyde Parkbombing collapsed.
John Downey, 62, from Donegal, denied murdering four soldiers in the attack inLondon.
The case against him was ended because British government officials mistakenly sent him one of the assurance letters in 2007 telling him he was no longer a wanted man.
Announcing the review yesterday afternoon, Mr Cameron said he accepted calls for a “full, independent examination” of the process.
The judge will be given “full access to government files and officials” andwill report by the end of May, Mr Cameron said.
Sinn Féin has insisted that those republicans who received letters only obtained them because the police were not seeking them in connection with offences — and therefore the documents did not amount to any form of amnesty.
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