Hyde Park bombing: The covert deal that was part of a lasting end to the Troubles

 

Share

The deal thrashed out between London and Sinn Fein over those suspected of involvement in historic acts of IRA terrorism was not exactly top secret, but nor was it advertised to the outside world.

Confirmation that it existed, coming in such a high-profile case, may have raised eyebrows – but the shockwaves today came not just from the exposure of the deal but the fact that the arrangements went so spectacularly wrong in the Downey case, apparently as a result of police error.

The net result, which has caused such a furore, was that the courts did not get to pass judgment on a man charged with involvement in multiple murder in London’s Hyde Park on 20 July 1982 – one of the darkest days of the Troubles.

Today was a deeply painful day for almost everyone concerned, from the families of those murdered to the various sections of authority involved in working a system which was supposed to function discreetly.

Serious questions have been posed about the administration of policing and justice, about police competence, and about dealing with vital matters away from political and public scrutiny.

The Hyde Park case can also be expected to bruise the Belfast peace process, already ailing as the two major parties in the Northern Ireland administration, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein, are at loggerheads on many issues.

The details of the scheme which has now come to light will add volume to the refrain from unionists that Sinn Fein has managed to negotiate many unfair advantages from the peace process, some of them hammered out behind closed doors.

The Downey case is one of many which have been described as items of unfinished business arising from the Troubles in general and in particular from the IRA’s campaign of violence. His was one of almost 200 cases of “on the runs” left in limbo after the IRA ceased to be active.

It took many years of negotiation between Sinn Fein and successive governments, but especially under Tony Blair, to work out what is called “the administrative scheme”. It was based on the idea that individuals once classed as “wanted” would be given official letters of permission to allow them to travel outside Northern Ireland without fear of arrest.

This was quietly settled on after it became clear that many Westminster MPs disapproved of attempts to pass new legislation proposed by the Labour government.

The prisons had been virtually emptied of paramilitary prisoners by 2000 as a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

There was much criticism of the fact that hundreds of inmates – many serving life sentences for murder – benefited from early release provisions.

The releases were painful to many, especially the families of those killed and injured, although there was an element of balance in the fact that loyalists as well as republicans were set free.

Few of those released have re-offended, but there is still enduring resentment about this process.

However, the justification advanced by the Blair government, and accepted if not applauded by most of the population, was that conflicts do not end in satisfactory and just ways.

The argument was that the major republican and loyalist groups were unlikely to maintain their ceasefires if hundreds of their members remained behind bars.

Under the Good Friday Agreement it was decreed, after much heart-searching, that they should be freed.

But the Agreement covered only those in jail and not those “on the run,” and dealing with that major loose end took well over a decade.

Even then, as the Downey case has shown, the scheme has not laid to rest an issue which raises such hugely sensitive legal, political and, indeed, moral issues.


Former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain on Downey's arrest

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee