On the Run Letters: Villiers knows who got letters but declines comment on DFM

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers refused to comment on whether Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness or any MLAs, MPs, or councillors received letters under the scheme to deal with so-called ‘on the runs’ (OTRs).

Mrs Villiers also confirmed that she won’t be publishing the names of any of the individuals who received letters under the scheme as to do this would likely prejudice any future attempts at prosecution.

She made the comments at a briefing of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Wednesday (September 3).

She was first asked by DUP MP Ian Paisley whether any MP had received a letter, to which she replied that it would “not be appropriate to start identifying individuals.”

Mr Paisley then stated: “So you can’t identify to us Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Féin MP, a Sinn Féin MLA or a Sinn Féin councillor represented in this jurisdiction or in the Republic of Ireland’s jurisdiction.

“You cannot confirm or deny if any of those individuals have one of these letters.”

Mrs Villiers responded: “I am not going to comment on which individuals were or were not considered by the scheme.”

Mr Paisley complained: “You can understand from my perspective why that is inadequate and why, as a representative of the general public in Northern Ireland, why they will feel that is so inadequate.

“They should know who has these. After all, if they’re going to elect someone, they should at least know their character and the background and all of the favours or non-favours those individuals might have.

“It sews a considerable thread of doubt through this process because the suspicion on the street is that senior, prominent members of Sinn Féin in the Government of Northern Ireland have one of these letters.

“I think you have a duty to dispel that and say, ‘That is complete nonsense. They don’t have it and here is the list of people who do.’”

But Mrs Villiers replied: “I am afraid I cannot agree on that. It would not be helpful for me to publish names.”

Later under questioning from DUP MP David Simpson, Mrs Villiers said she had seen the list of those that had received the letters and that she was deliberately refusing to reveal them to the Committee.

Independent Unionist MP Sylvia Hermon referred to the collapse of the case involving Creeslough resident, John Downey, who had been due to answer charges in connection with the Hyde Park bombing until the letters came to light and the case was thrown out,

Mrs Hermon said: “Mr Downey walks free today to breath the air of County Donegal and, I understand, to walk about in Northern Ireland as well.

“So, I think the evidence points in the opposite direction. You should publish the names.”

But Mrs Villiers insisted: “As I say, another disadvantage of publishing the names is the impact that might potentially have on the ability to prosecute these individuals in the future.”