On the Runs: Reaction to secret fugitive letters report
- 17 July 2014
- From the section Northern Ireland
Secret letters issued to republican terrorism suspects - so-called On the Runs - assuring them they were no longer wanted were not an amnesty, a judge has found.
Lady Justice Hallett's review was ordered by PM David Cameron.
She found "significant systemic failures" in how the scheme was administered.
Politicians and high-profile figures have been giving their reaction to the review's findings.
Theresa Villiers, Northern Ireland secretary of state
"This government is profoundly sorry for the hurt this case has caused.
"Anybody reading the report will be left in no doubt that she has provided us with a rigorous and comprehensive account of the scheme.
"The government will act on these recommendations and I give the House this assurance.
"We will take whatever steps are necessary acting on the basis of legal advice and in conjunction with the police and prosecutors to do everything possible to remove barriers to future prosecutions.
"It is not my role to speak for my Labour predecessors as secretary of state. They are more than capable of speaking for themselves on the role they played and the decisions they took.
"Yet I will say this. I might not agree with every decision they made in relation to the OTR issue.
"But whatever differences of emphasis and approach we might have I recognise that they were dealing with very difficult judgments in very difficult circumstances and that they were at all times acting with sincerity in seeking to move the peace process forward."
Peter Robinson, NI first minister
"There is a heavy criticism of the Northern Ireland Office for the systematic failures in the system and leads to the conclusion that it was wrong in principle and shambolic in practice.
"The shambolic nature is seen in the lack of coherent procedures from the Northern Ireland Office and police in how they carried out this role.
"It is clear that the justice minister and other ministers should have been informed of the nature of this scheme when we took over the responsibility of policing and justice, if not before then.
"On it being no amnesty or no get out of jail free card, those are comments made by Lady Justice Hallett. In the legal definition, she is right but it was a get-out-of-jail-free card for Downey. It has the potential for being a get-out-of-jail-free card for anyone who had received the letter.
"What was not in the public knowledge, and the Hallett Review confirms this, is that there were letters of comfort sent out to individuals."
Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin assembly member
"I think in the first instance the main thing to say is that Lady Hallett said the scheme was very lawful and far from being secret, she said that Sinn Féin pushed for a public manifestation of dealing with the On the Runs.
"In any conflict resolution situation, this issue along with other issues, whether it is policing, whether it is de-militarisation, dealing with weapons, or dealing with victims - dealing with On the Runs or exiles is one of those.
"We still have these issues and Sinn Féin are up for that but we shouldn't be surprised about this. These issues are dealt with in every single conflict resolution situation that you can think of.
"This is a not a matter of celebrations, it is about resolving issues that remain outstanding as we move forward with the peace process."
Mike Nesbitt, Ulster Unionist leader
"I think it gives little or no recognition of the hurt caused to victims and survivors and my initial thought is with them. There is no recognition of the pain caused, and no relief in this report - which I think does make clear that this administrative scheme was a grubby clandestine act of appeasement, specifically appeasing Sinn Féin and the republican movement.
"If you look at paragraph 8.34, Lady Justice Hallett makes clear that there is no evidence that any local party, with the exception of Sinn Féin was made aware of the administrative scheme. She also makes clear that the fault, and the lack of clarity and openness around this administrative scheme lies with the UK government.
"It may be legal, but was it moral? I don't think so.
"We are being given a report by Lady Justice Hallett which says that this scheme was lawful and yet the secretary of state says this scheme is now at an end.
"So it may have been lawful, but clearly the secretary of state accepts that it was a bad scheme, and not one that she is prepared to continue with."
Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP leader
"It is evident that the SDLP were right at the time to warn previous Labour governments about the risks associated with side and secret deals.
"Justice Hallett confirms the deep flaws in the On the Runs scheme as it had no structure, no policy and no risk assessment that would allow for errors to be rectified.
"It is evident that the lack of transparency around this scheme has caused considerable hurt and distress to victims. I was pleased to hear the secretary of state acknowledge this.
"I hope that no-one will use the contents of this report to impede political progress in Northern Ireland by using it as an excuse to refuse to engage fully and honestly with each other.
"We have neglected to deal honestly with the past. The legacy of the past hangs over us like a massive alpine glacier and if we fail to deal with it, bits of it will continue to break off and cause hurt.
"The revelations make the re-establishment of all-party talks even more urgent. We must now progress in a spirit of honesty and transparency."
David Ford, Alliance leader
"It is clear that in a very limited time, Lady Justice Hallett has done a very thorough examination of this so-called administrative scheme. She set out a number of issues which need to be dealt with in order to provide confidence in the justice system for the future.
"It certainly is clear that the secretary of state says the scheme is closed as far as the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) is concerned. With regards to receiving any further requests, I have made it absolutely clear that, as far as I am concerned, the scheme will not be carried through by the Department of Justice.
"There are still issues which need to be addressed, relating to 36 individuals whose status changed a few years ago from wanted to not wanted. There are issues about others where incorrect information has been supplied. Those are the kind of issues I will be seeking to follow through in my responsibility for saying that the justice system has the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland in 2014.
"I cannot undo what was done under previous Westminster governments, but what I can do is ensure that the system works properly now."
George Hamilton, NI chief constable
"The PSNI accepts the report and its recommendations in full. With the publication of today's report, I want to reiterate the PSNI's apology for the additional pain the families have had to endure, as a result of the failure to secure justice for their loved ones.
"The PSNI's role was to conduct an evidential review of the status of individuals at that particular moment in time. The information was then passed to the independent prosecuting authorities.
"Justice Sweeney's judgement was very clear and is reflected again in today's report. Police wrongly informed the prosecuting authorities that an individual was not wanted, when there was information to suggest that he was wanted by the Metropolitan Police. On that basis the prosecution for the Hyde Park bombing failed.
"As chief constable, I want to ensure the PSNI fulfils our legal responsibilities in relation to the dealing with the past, to the best of our ability, and in the professional manner that victims deserve. I must do this with due regard for the demands of keeping people safe in the present day."
Chris Daly whose brother Lieutenant Anthony Daly was killed in the Hyde Park bomb
"Ultimately it goes a long way in answering a lot of the questions that were raised when the John Downey case was thrown out of the Old Bailey.
"I think the report itself is very objective and Lady Justice Hallett has delivered on what she promised when she personally met the families a few months back.
"As is any victim of atrocities, he is never forgotten and in this instance, I think there has been a change where the impact on the victims on not only this incidence, but all atrocities from the IRA conflict has been highlighted and I believe that maybe they had been forgotten in the past but not so much now."
Shelly Gilfillan, niece of IRA murder victim Lexie Cummings
"I am very disappointed that the victims have not been given something to give a little hope to perhaps giving closure to some of these murders," she said.
"No-one seems to know what is going to happen next.
"The letters should be rescinded. All the victims in and around Castlederg, we were all devastated."
Commission for Victims and Survivors in Northern Ireland
"Serious criticisms have been identified by the review and the assurances of the secretary of state that these will be fully addressed are critical to rebuilding the trust and confidence of victims and survivors in the government as well as the system of justice in Northern Ireland and nationally.
"The commission and the Victims Forum will consider the findings of Justice Hallett in detail and will take considered steps to ensure that the promised transparency will be evident in future and that the government, as well as the justice system, will be held to account to keep the needs of victims and survivors at the forefront of their priorities in the future."
Ivan Lewis, shadow NI secretary of state
"First of all Lady Justice Hallett, what she did was shatter a number of myths. She found the On the Runs scheme was lawful, people said it wasn't. She said it wasn't an amnesty, people said it was and she said it was not secret.
"Of course we accept all of the findings and we accept that there are clearly lessons to be learned by Northern Ireland Office and the PSNI."
Prof Jean Orr, Wave Trauma Centre
"Lady Justice Hallett says that: 'No one should use my findings to make political capital. Those whose lives have been devastated by terrorism deserve better. They have suffered enough'.
"We agree with that.
"This episode, like so many others, reveals once again the need to find a comprehensive, inclusive and sensitive way to deal with Northern Ireland's past.
"Victims and survivors are regularly told that the needs of victims are at the centre of all efforts to move forward. Politicians need to get around the table and prove it".
Labour MP Kate Hoey
"Lady Justice Hallett herself says the scheme lacked 'proper lines of responsibility, accountability and safeguards'.
"Surely the real responsibility for all of this, whatever he did in terms of getting the peace process, must lie at the very heart of government, which was the letters that were coming from the prime minster [Tony Blair] to Gerry Adams saying we are going to sort this."
Shaun Woodward, former NI secretary of state
"The review is extremely good and extremely thorough, and as a former secretary of state I certainly take my share of responsibility and agree with her findings.
"Unfortunately what we've got today is a lack of clarity from the secretary of state, because when I asked her who now is in charge of the scheme, we're still not clear if it's the Northern Ireland Office or the Department of Justice.
"Equally, a number of letters have been written - I do not know if those letters have now been rescinded, or do they still stand?
"A third important question that I'm sure a number of victims as well as those who were the subject of those letters will be asking is, for those who didn't get clarity, where are they now?
"The secretary of state has said the scheme is closed, which I assume means she is taking responsibility, but at the same time a number of people were still under review. What has happened to those people?"
Charlie Flanagan, Irish minister for foreign affairs
"The Hallett Review arose out of a recent trial related to the Hyde Park bombing in which four people were killed on 20 July 1982.
"On the same day, another seven people died in the Regent's Park bombing. It is important that we remember those who lost their lives and were injured in those dreadful bombings, as well as their grieving families.
"The Irish government has always been very conscious of the need to deal sensitively with the legacy of the past.
"The issues that led to the establishment of the Hallett Review underline the importance of safeguarding the progress made by the Northern Ireland political parties and reaching agreement on comprehensive and effective arrangements for dealing with the past."