8 December 2005 Edition
Hypocrisy and opportunism in OTR row
Immediately after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Sinn Féin raised with the Irish and British Governments the issue of a small number of people 'on the run'. These are people who, if arrested and convicted, would be eligible for release under the Agreement. Both governments and the SDLP acknowledged that this was an anomaly which needed to be resolved.
Sinn Féin did not support, propose or accept that members of the British armed forces or Military Intelligence agencies should be part of this process. Indeed, Sinn Féin negotiators sought to ensure that the scheme would not provide an amnesty to members of British state forces who carried out, or were responsible for, state killings or collusion with unionist paramilitaries. The scheme published by the two governments four years ago at Weston Park related only to On The Runs (OTRs).
Four years later the OTR legislation has been produced. But in a piece of political sleight of hand, and with the purpose of protecting British agents, members of state forces have been included in the legislation. We have it from the Taoiseach that he had no advance notice of this British move. Sinn Féin has denounced this and demanded that the British Government remove such references from the legislation.
There has been much hypocrisy, cynicism and opportunism around this issue. Some of the unionist politicians who have protested so loudly about OTR legislation have had no problem over the years in sharing platforms with unionist paramilitaries and sectarian murderers and cheering on the murderous actions of the various state forces in the Six Counties.
The SDLP has been particularly cynical and opportunist in its reaction. Belatedly that party has discovered a hitherto non-existent concern for the victims of state violence and collusion with unionist paramilitaries. Its sole concern has been to use this very serious issue to attempt to damage Sinn Féin, a party outspoken in its support for such victims for decades.
Such cynical SDLP posturing is clear for all to see. As a result, families of victims of collusion and state violence have recently criticised SDLP representatives. It is time that party recognised that the peace process and the needs of all victims are far too important for political point-scoring.