Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD has described the grandstanding by the DUP and other unionist politicians over OTRs as “a sham crisis which has more to do with upcoming elections than with dealing with and resolving legacy issues.”
Speaking today at a meeting of the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle in Dublin, Gerry Adams said:
“In recent days there has been deliberate misrepresentation about the OTR issue and the provision of letters by the British government.
"Unionist leaders have intentionally engaged in hyperbole and feigned anger over an issue that has been on the political and public agenda since the Good Friday Agreement negotiations.
"The fact is that there was no agreement between Sinn Féin and the British government on how to resolve the issue of OTRs. Those who received the letters, as they are entitled to, were citizens who were not wanted by the British forces and they received their letters because this was the case.
"Others who were wanted by the British for alleged offences would have been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement if they had been in prison. If they were tried and sentenced at any time after the Agreement they would have served only two years in prison.
"Despite accepting that the position of OTRs was an anomaly under the Good Friday Agreement the British government did not produce a satisfactory way of resolving the matter. Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff has acknowledged: ‘As we were not able to find an across the board solution that worked we had to deal with the ‘On the Runs’ as individual cases through an administrative system ...’
"The administrative system is an entirely legal process, compliant with the law, involving all of the relevant senior law officers of the north and of the British state.
"It is important to understand that the letters provided cannot be rescinded. If you’re not wanted – you’re not wanted.
"The anomaly of OTRs has been referenced to publicly on countless occasions.
"The British and Irish governments acknowledged this at Hillsborough Castle in March 2001.
"Several months later the issue of resolving the issue of OTRs was covered in Paragraph 20 of the Weston Park Agreement.
"In May 2003 following negotiations at Leeds Castle the two governments issued a Joint Declaration, including a separate paper dealing specifically with OTRs.
"And in October 2005 the then British Secretary of State said in the British Parliament that the government planned to legislate in respect of OTRs.
"In January 2006 Sinn Féin and the other parties, for differing, reasons rejected the legislation but the OTR issue continued to be the focus of discussions publicly and privately.
"It has been the subject of discussion at Policing Board meetings at which SDLP and DUP members, some of whom are lawyers, were present; was referenced in the Eames/Bradley proposals; and is covered in Jonathan Powell’s account of the negotiations.
"Powell for example, acknowledged talking to the DUP on this matter and that they accepted the implementation of the Joint Declaration proposals on OTRs provided they had a letter from Tony Blair effectively blaming Trimble.
"The British government should ensure that if anyone else comes forward seeking clarification of their status that they are treated in the same way as the others covered by the administrative system Under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Human Rights Act all persons have a legal right upon request to be informed if the police require them for questioning.
"The letter that those who made application received makes it clear that if any evidence emerges of any offence then the person receiving the letter can expect to face due process.
"Clearly, despite all of the feigned brouhaha and hot air generated by unionist leaders this process is not an amnesty.
"It is also worth recalling that the Good Friday Agreement, which the people of the island of Ireland overwhelmingly voted for in two referenda, saw the early release of over 400 republican political prisoners, and loyalist prisoners from jails in Britain and Ireland, north and south, many of whom were serving lengthy prison sentences.
"The referenda vote reflected the desire of citizens north and south for an end to conflict and for peace and a recognition that the issue of prisoners was one that had to be resolved.
"While the DUP campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement they lost that vote and are obliged to respect the democratic wish of the Irish people, including at that time a majority of unionists.
"The DUP also signed on to work the power sharing institutions in 2007 and now share the Assembly and the Executive with former political prisoners.
"In an effort to ensure that our past does not undermine the peace and the hope for a better future Richard Haass and Meghan O Sullivan produced a comprehensive compromise package to achieve this. Sinn Féin signed up for these. The DUP and other unionists thus far have refused.
"The legacy of the past and parades issues and other matters are of such critical importance that the opportunity presented by the Haass proposals needs to be seized and seized now."