Secret assurances guaranteeing immunity from prosecution may have been given to IRA terrorists, thought to include the alleged killers of Lord Mountbatten and a British ambassador, according to documents obtained by The Daily Telegraph.
The newspaper has published correspondence that suggests the Irish government covertly initiated a unilateral scheme promising suspects they did not face arrest. This contradicts a previous understanding that assurances were given to suspects – known as “on the runs” – only by the British Government under Tony Blair during peace negotiations.
According to the Telegraph, minutes of meetings between senior British and Irish officials make it apparent that Ireland was already operating an informal scheme of its own. It raises the prospect that IRA terrorists who committed atrocities in the Irish Republic – including the murders of Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Christopher Ewart-Biggs, the British ambassador to Ireland – were given assurances that they were not facing arrest.
In an eight-page memo written on May 3 2000, Sir Jonathan Stephens, then associate political director at the Northern Ireland Office, outlined discussions that had taken place at the Irish embassy in London the evening before. He wrote:
“On OTRs [on the runs], the British side undertook to operate the Irish procedure of clarifying the position of named individuals and reviewing cases where appropriate, but with no guarantees of the outcome: Sinn Fein want an undertaking that the general principle of not pursuing OTRs will be recognised by July.”
Sir Jonathan, now permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office, added under the subject heading OTRs:
“Reflecting earlier discussions in Downing Street, Jonathan Powell [Tony Blair’s chief of staff] said we were prepared to operate a similar system to the Irish one. If we were given a list of names, we would clarify with the police and the prosecuting authorities the position of those individuals and, where appropriate, review whether it remained in the public interest to pursue a prosecution.”
A senior Westminster source told the Telegraph that the memos “show that the British scheme was inspired by the Irish. It will lead to fears that suspects involved in the murder of Lord Mountbatten were given some form of immunity.
“Tony Blair wanted to wipe the slate clean for the whole of Northern Ireland and the Irish government were pulling the strings. This really shows the political interference in the Irish justice system.”
The disclosure comes just days after the Prince of Wales visited Mullaghmore, the village where his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten was murdered when a bomb exploded on his boat 36 years ago. The IRA claimed responsibility for the act.