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DUP's sham crisis

(Suzanne Breen, Sunday Life)

Surprise, surprise. Stormont has survived another sham crisis. Our political institutions weren't pulled back from the brink in a last minute deal because they were never in jeopardy in the first place.

Peter Robinson gave an Oscar-winning performance as a man incandescent with rage when he "learned" of the on-the-runs' scheme. His 'rescind or I'll resign' rant was repeated by other party colleagues.

Shame on those who bought the bluster. "If you get what you want, why on earth would you resign?" Robinson retorted when asked why he wasn't standing down.

Only he didn't get what he wanted. The OTR letters weren't rescinded and no judicial public inquiry was ordered.

Instead, a judge will look at whatever documents the British government decides to disclose. The judge will have no power to compel witnesses to give evidence or question them under oath.

All hearings will be in secret. The review will report – surprise, surprise – at the end of May after the European and council elections are safely over.

The DUP can spin all it wants but anybody with an iota of intelligence knows the OTR scheme hasn't been binned. By announcing a review, David Cameron has simply shifted the story off the front pages and taken the heat out of the situation.

And can the DUP really plead ignorance about the OTR scheme's existence anyway? Four years ago, I interviewed ex-Sinn Féin ard comhairle member Gerry McGeough who was charged with the attempted murder of ex-UDR man Sammy Brush.

McGeough told me Gerry Kelly had promised it was safe for him to return to Northern Ireland and Sinn Féin had given a list of 216 OTRs to the NIO.

"The British government has operated a secret scheme granting royal pardons or immunity from prosecution to hand-picked ex-IRA members wanted for killing, bombing, and other paramilitary activity," I reported.

If the DUP didn't read those articles, McGeough's claims were repeated during his trial. Senior DUP figures attended the court with Sammy Brush.

And did the DUP not wonder how ex-OTR Eibhlin Glenholmes went from being the most wanted woman in the UK to sitting on the victims' forum?

If DUP leaders were in the dark about the OTR scheme, it was because they chose to walk around with their eyes closed.

March 4, 2014

This article appeared in the March 2, 2014 edition of the Sunday Life.

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