08/03/2002

Alliance Party steps into the amnesty debate

The Alliance Party went on the offensive over terrorist amnesties amid reports that there may be as many as 200 republicans applying under the measure.

Alliance Party leader David Ford stepped into the imbroglio and made a proposal which in effect repackages the amnesty measures to make it more palatable to a sceptical public. It provides for the suspect to admit formally guilt and thereafter be treated similarly to licence-on-release prisoners.

Mr Ford said: "We think it is unacceptable to say the slate is wiped clean and your crimes don't matter. There has to be recognition of guilt. They might have to spend one night in prison, but there would have to be a recording of their guilt.

"They would be in the same position as those released from prison on licence and could be brought back in if they re-offend," he added.

The Alliance Party leader added that any measure would have to be combined with a pledge from paramilitary groups that people they exiled from the province could return safely.

The direct response to Sinn Fein was left to deputy leader Eileen Bell who said that republicans must convince the public of their peaceful intentions. She added that the government should not pursue the amnesty matter, without making use of a licence scheme.

"It would be utter hypocrisy for paramilitaries to be allowed to return to Northern Ireland, while their victims cannot. If Mr Adams made a statement saying that exiles can return to Northern Ireland free from any threat from republicans it would be a major step forward. It would be hypocritical for the Government to allow terrorists home, while their victims cannot.”

Elsewhere it has been widely reported that over 200 names have been submitted to the PSNI by republicans for consideration under an amnesty scheme – including two men suspected of involvement in the Enniskillen bombing in 1987. The number of on-the-run terrorists originally totalled 60 people when the deal was first mooted between the British government and republicans at the Weston Park talks last July.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's admission that the amnesty issue had been under discussion in the Commons drew flak from Shadow Northern Ireland spokesman Quentin Davies who dismissed the move as "quite unjustified and frankly crassly stupid and irresponsible to make this concession to Sinn Fein/IRA".

The backlash came in spite of repeated denials from Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams that his party had made any request for "an amnesty". Instead, Mr Adams referred to negotiations to close a "legal loophole".

(GMcG)

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