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

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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions