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
Belfast-born David McKittrick has been reporting on Northern Ireland since 1971, He has written for the East Antrim Times, the Irish Times and was The Independent's Irish correspondent for many years. He is the author of several books including Making Sense of the Troubles (2000) and Lost Lives (1999).
Wednesday 26 February 2014
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)
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)
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.”
- 2 Dutch King Willem-Alexander declares the end of the welfare state
- 3 A-level results 2015: UK exam board OCR admits it 'estimates' hundreds of pupils' grades after papers 'go missing'
- 4 Giant Minion terrorises drivers in Ireland as 40ft inflatable blocks busy Dublin road
- 5 'Cool kids' can go on to become losers in later life, study finds
Sabrina Corgatelli: US hunting tourist posts picture of herself with dead giraffe after Cecil the lion outrage
'Gene drive': Scientists sound alarm over supercharged GM organisms which could spread in the wild and cause environmental disasters
Edward Heath 'child sex abuse' allegation: Investigation to be held into Wiltshire police handling of alleged claim in the 1990s
Labour leadership race: Jeremy Corbyn could be the next Prime Minister, says Ken Clarke
A-level results 2015: UK exam board OCR admits it 'estimates' hundreds of pupils' grades after papers 'go missing'
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Calais Migrant Crisis: Deputy Mayor of Calais labels Cameron's use of 'swarm' as 'racist' and 'ignorant'
Chris Leslie: Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity agenda will harm the poor, says Labour shadow Chancellor
Landlords renting properties to illegal immigrants to face up to five years in prison
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'
Calais crisis: The seven claims made about the migrants - and the reality
£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...
£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...
£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: ACS qualified Domestic Gas Brea...
£16250 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Product Packager / Stock Assistant is ...