Rank and file police officers today heightened pressure on the British government to scrap plans for fugitive terrorist killers to be allowed back into the North without facing jail.
After Sinn Féin dramatically withdrew support for the so-called on-the-runs legislation, because it would grant an amnesty to police and soldiers involved in murder during the Troubles, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland found itself in unlikely agreement with republicans.
Chairman Irwin Montgomery urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to take Sinn Féin at its word and abolish the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill currently going through Parliament.
He said: “This is an odious piece of legislation, utterly without merit in principle or in execution.
“When the RUC Widows and Bereaved Parents met the Prime Minister recently it was obvious that neither he nor the Secretary of State, Peter Hain, were comfortable with the proposal.
“Now is the opportunity to do the right thing even if it is for the wrong reason of Sinn Féin hypocrisy in not wanting the legislation to apply to military or police personnel.”
Ditching the controversial proposals would also preserve the integrity of Chief Constable Hugh Orde’s historic case review process into unsolved murders, Mr Montgomery added.
“I urge this (British) government to do the decent thing and abandon the Bill.”
Rivals accused Sinn Féin of staging a humiliating climbdown after it reversed its support for the plans.
The party claimed the legislation was too far removed from an agreement with the British government at the Weston Park peace talks in 2001 which would have allowed republicans who have been on-the-run since the Troubles, to return home.
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 Northern Ireland.
The commissioner would then ask the police if the person was suspected of crimes.
If an individual is, he or she would be issued with a certificate guaranteeing they would not be arrested.
The certificate would also set in train a special tribunal, with its own judge and prosecutors, who would examine the offence the person is alleged to have committed.
If the person is found guilty, he or she will receive a special licence similar to that given to paramilitary prisoners released under the Good Friday Agreement guaranteeing they will remain free unless they offend again.
Victims and human rights groups, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, unionists, SDLP and the cross community Alliance Party condemned the legislation for failing to compel those accused of offences to face their victims during the tribunal hearings.
Last week during the House of Commons committee stage, Northern Ireland Office minister David Hanson conceded the British government may have to amend the legislation.
But after it emerged the Bill will also cover members of the security forces who colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in murders during the Troubles, Sinn Féin demanded the British government stick to what was agreed.
The party’s vice-president Pat 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.”