In peace processes across the world there will be things that all sides won’t want to know but, here, there is no credible explanation for not knowing something about the OTR or on-the-run process.
On this one, deniability is anything but plausible.
You find the roots of this story more than 13 years ago in news reports between Christmas 2000 and New Year 2001- that is if you want to look and see.
So, in this detailed piece of research written for the eamonnmallie.com website, I will set out what was there before our eyes.
It will show that long after detailed information was reported on specific and high-profile on-the-run cases, unionists – the DUP and UUP – were still playing a kind of political blame game.
You find an example of this in a statement issued in Peter Robinson’s name in May 2004.
This came after a report by the BBC that as part of a planned political deal and arranged sequence of statements and actions the previous October, the IRA killers of Garda Jerry McCabe were to be freed from Caslerea Jail in the republic.
Included in the statement from Robinson were these sentences: “It’s high time that David Trimble came clean.
“What other dastardly deals did you do last October David, and how much worse is this deal going to get in terms of demilitarisation, on-the-run amnesties, policing, human rights and equality?”
Trimble said he knew nothing of the side deal to release the killers of Garda McCabe but, in this period, we find a pattern of blame Trimble.
The political process was moving beyond him and his party with the governments now exploring a potential Sinn Fein/DUP deal.
And, in June 2004, I noted the following in a conversation with a senior DUP figure.
OTRs/demil (meaning demilitarisation) etc “It’s Trimble’s mistake, not ours.”
At the time, I weaved that thought into an analysis piece published by the BBC.
“The DUP will oppose any scaling down of security and any move to settle the controversial issue of on-the-runs.
“But it will no doubt argue that these were mistakes made by others in past negotiations.
“In other words, these things were not conceded on the DUP’s watch.”
Months later, Robinson said the DUP would not be held responsible for the results of a weak Ulster Unionist Party, and this is the type of Trimble blame-game narrative described by Tony Blair’s former chief-of-staff in his book ‘Great Hatred, Little Room’ some four years later in 2008.
So, should we be shocked that plans to settle the on-the-run cases were part of that planned October 2003 political sequence?
The answer is no and for this reason.
Here is a paragraph from a Gerry Adams statement dated May 11 2004: ” Last October there was an agreed sequence of statements and actions which would have seen the Good Friday Agreement institutions back in place and a process to resolve a number of issues, for example arms and armed groups, Justice and Human Rights, demilitarisation, people on the run and other matters including the release of the Castlerea prisoners.”
That planned sequence in October 2003 described by Adams in that statement a few months later is remembered because it was dramatically halted by Trimble – stalled because of a lack of detail on IRA decommissioning.
But, long before this point, a number of high profile on-the-run cases had been settled.
– December 2000, involving republicans who escaped from Crumlin Road Jail in 1981;
– March 2001, involving men who escaped from Maze/Long Kesh in 1983 and 1997;
– June 2002, reports by the BBC across radio, television and online detailing that the Eibhlin Glenholmes case as well as ‘some dozens’ of others had already been settled.
These reports in June 2002 are significant because they describe the process – a request for information to the NIO, checks with prosecuting authorities, case review and response.
It is what today is being described as the ‘administrative scheme’.
Read forward several years to June 2007 and a report by the journalist Chris Thornton for the Belfast Telegraph just weeks after Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness became First and Deputy First Ministers.
Thornton’s report is packed with detail and figures – statistics released by the Attorney General’s Office under the Freedom of Information Act.
It reports a total of 194 cases.
One fugitive had been captured, stood trial and was cleared.
– 84 cases were settled.
– 75 remained wanted (as follows)
– 8 wanted for return to prison;
– 46 wanted for questioning by police;
– 21 wanted to face trial.
At the time, 34 cases were still being reviewed .
Almost seven years ago, this was reported information – there to be seen and questioned if anyone was looking and if anyone was interested, but eyes seem to have been shut tight.
Two years later, the Eames/Bradley report updated the figures – that around three quarters of 200 cases had been settled.
In 2010, the Belfast Telegraph published the Queen’s Pardon document used to settle a number of cases many years earlier and, in 2012, under front page banner headlines, the same newspaper reported that Eibhlin Glenholmes had been appointed to the Forum for Victims and Survivors.
Put the jigsaw of information pieces together and ask is it credible, plausible, believable that all of this was missed in a place that has shown itself capable in recent days of being shocked by the trivial.
The answer is no.
In the wake of the collapse of the John Downey case in London, what we are watching is a political sham fight.
What has happened over the past near-14 years cannot be unwritten or undone.
It happened on everyone’s watch but, apparently, when no one was looking.
Hard to believe?