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Republican hits out at SDLP

(Sharon O'Neill, Irish News)

A veteran republican has hit out at SDLP claims that legislation governing 'on-the-runs' represents a form of "collusion".

The fall-out continued yesterday (Sunday) from the controversial Northern Ireland Offences Bill, which will allow paramilitaries and security force members who committed crimes prior to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement to avoid serving time in jail.

The legislation, which will cover the PSNI's review of historical cases, is not confined to on-the-runs (OTRs) – either those convicted or wanted for questioning by police – but also includes other persons yet to be charged.

Although the cases will be heard before a special tribunal, defendants do not have to attend.

Victims' families, unionist politicians and the SDLP have criticised the bill, as has prominent human rights group British Irish Rights Watch.

Sinn Féin welcomed it but later hit out at its inclusion of British army and police personnel.

It was reported yesterday that senior officers tasked with reviewing historic cases predicted that no member of the security forces will be charged with the 1989 loyalist murder of Catholic solicitor Pat Finucane.

Former Metropolitan police chief Lord Stevens has already found that the RUC and British army colluded in the killing.

A number of Stevens' files on security force personnel are still with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Speaking at the unveiling of a republican memorial garden in Ballymurphy in west Belfast yesterday, Brian Keenan – who was reputedly the IRA's go-between with the decommissioning body – was scathing of the SDLP.

"What a disgraceful position the SDLP are taking – that they try to say that republicans have done some sort of a deal to have the murderers of the British crown forces and pro-unionist forces included in the on-the-runs legislation," he said.

"It ill beholds the SDLP to take that position because you know that the republican leadership would never be involved in such an underhand thing.

"We have too much respect both for the people in this area, the people right across, who sustained this war for so long."

However, SDLP assembly member Alban Maginness last night said: "It is quite clear that Sinn Féin are now deeply embarrassed by the OTR legislation which has given police and army and escape route from justice for their activities during the Troubles.

"Sinn Féin would have been aware of the British government's attitude during the course of their negotiations and if they weren't then either they were duped or too stupid to realise what the government was playing at.

"Once again the selfish interests of the Provisional movement in getting their people off and home comes before the interests of justice and truth for the victims of the Troubles."

November 29, 2005

This article appeared first in the November 28, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News