Northern Ireland First Minister, Peter Robinson, ‘incandescent with rage’ at Hyde Park bombing suspect debacle

His threat followed a strong reaction among unionists and some victims’ groups to a London judge’s dismissal of all charges against John Downey

A threat by Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson to resign over the collapse of the murder case against republican John Downey has brought warnings from his party that politics in Belfast is in crisis.

Describing himself as “incandescent with rage”, Mr Robinson launched a fierce attack on the British Government, saying he would step down unless a full judicial inquiry is established.

He said he was “not prepared to be a stooge for Westminster”, and demanded both an inquiry and the rescinding of letters sent to around 200 republicans assuring them they would not be prosecuted.

His threat followed a strong reaction among unionists and some victims’ groups to a London judge’s dismissal of all charges against Mr Downey, who was accused of murdering four soldiers who died in the IRA’s 1982 Hyde Park bombing but walked free after it emerged he had received an immunity letter due to a police error.

The court case revealed that about 200 assurances had been given to “on the run” republicans declaring they were not wanted by police in Britain. It emerged that 38 such letters had been sent out by the current Government.

The authorities and former Labour Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain defended the practice, but Prime Minister David Cameron told the Commons that Mr Downey should not have received the letter and that a “dreadful mistake” had been made.

John Downey received immunity due to a police error (Getty) John Downey received immunity due to a police error (Getty)
He added: “It was important to Sinn Fein because they needed to bring all active republicans along with them behind the peace process. With some freed but others potentially facing arrest and prosecution, the whole process could have been badly disrupted.”

Mr Hain argued in a Guardian blog: “A process was put in place. It was not something casual. Names submitted were painstakingly assessed according to robust procedures.” Abnormal measures had been necessary to normalise Northern Ireland “just as bringing closure to other bitter conflicts around the world has required governments to do controversial and difficult things”. Now, he added, “almost universal peace and stability has replaced the hideous horror of the past”.

Unionists reacted angrily to the scheme – which few knew was in existence, or that it had existed for many years, or that it had benefited so many suspects.

Mr Robinson accused the Government of treating the Belfast administration “in a despicable way”, saying he felt deceived. His threat to resign attracted much attention in Belfast, but there was little initial sense of alarm in political circles.

Dead horses covered up and wrecked cars at the scene of the 1982 attack (Getty) Dead horses covered up and wrecked cars at the scene of the 1982 attack (Getty)
Responding to his comments Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister, tweeted: “My unionist colleagues need to calm down. We’ve all come a long way. No sensible person will thank anyone for threatening the institutions.”

Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly urged Westminster “not to try to unpick the agreement despite what the electioneering unionists are at now”.

Elections to both Europe and local councils, due in May, are expected to be hard fought between the Democratic Unionist Party and its major rival for the Protestant vote, the Ulster Unionist Party.

In condemning Westminster, both parties took the opportunity to take sideswipes at each other, each claiming the other bore responsibility for the on-the-run arrangements.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “There is no doubt that finding a way forward will be more difficult now... but I continue to encourage the parties to do so.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Ashdown Group: PHP Developer - Buckinghamshire - £29,000

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior PHP Developer - Milton Keynes...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales & Marketing Assistant

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This UK based B2C and B2B multi...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003