Secret letters sent to Tyrone OTRs

Long Kesh prison
Long Kesh prison

So-called ‘letters of assurance’ have been sent to On-The-Run republicans (OTRs) now living in Tyrone, it has been revealed.

The existence of the letters, assuring them that they would not be prosecuted if they returned to Northern Ireland, was confirmed by the MP for Mid Ulster Francie Molloy.

The letters were an attempt to resolve a crucial issue of the Good Friday peace agreement, said the Sinn Fein representative, who added that he had seen copies of the controversial letters in the early 2000s.

“Many people from the East Tyrone area had left the country, going right back to the civil unrest of the early 1970s, and they wanted reassurance that they could return and see their families and pick up their ordinary lives without fear of arrest”, he said.

“In many cases the letters simply stated that the individuals were not on any wanted lists by the police.

“Some of these people had been continually harassed by security forces, but now wanted to come home and make a new beginning.

“Resolving their plight and giving them the necessary reassurance was an important part of the republican movement and the wider nationalist community’s buy-in to the agreement.”

The existence of the letters only emerged after John Downey, a suspect in the 1982 Hyde Park Bombing, had a prosecution against him dropped because he had been given one of the letters.

Mr Molloy went on to welcome the court decision involving Downey.

“It has in effect strengthened the position of the letters, stating to ignore them is a breach of a government decision, and part of the legislation”, he said.

The PSNI is currently conducting a review of all OTR cases to determine if the information it gave the prosecution authorities was accurate.

In total, 187 letters were issued to republicans, including 38 since 2010.

Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has also insisted that the status of the letters has not been undermined.

In taking that stance, he has pointed to remarks by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve stating that the on-the-run cases were handled using what was a “lawful process”.