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.”
- 1 Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
- 2 Prince held a Facebook Q&A and this is the only question he answered
- 4 Now we know whose fault it is if you end up being murdered in Thailand
- 5 35,000 walrus gather ashore on north-west Alaska beach 'for a rest'
Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
Car tax disc changes: Five facts you never knew about your (almost obsolete) tax disc
The Aral Sea: Nasa pictures show how what was once the fourth largest lake in the world has become almost completely dry
Brad Pitt, on the moment he completely lost his temper with Clint Eastwood's son
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Benefits 'smart cards' plan revealed by Iain Duncan Smith to stop claimants spending welfare money on alcohol
- < Previous
- Next >
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...
£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...
Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...