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Peter Robinson at today's Northern Ireland Assembly debate. Screengrab
War of Words

"A deception by omission" - Robinson says the DUP was misled over 'on-the runs'

Martin McGuinness disagrees saying that if the DUP’s outbusts are about appeasing hardline unionists and electioneering.

NORTHERN IRELAND FIRST Minister Peter Robinson has again said that his party was unaware of the letters given to IRA suspects indicating that they were no longer wanted by police.

Robinson was speaking in the Northern Assembly this afternoon at a special debate convened following the collapse of the James Downey Hyde Park bomb trial and the subsequent controversy.

The DUP leader Robinson said that “while there was much speculation in the media” about the issue of ‘on-the-runs’ in the period after the Good Friday Agreement, he told members that his predecessor Ian Paisley had written to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to seek assurances that no deal had been made.

The First Minster said that Paisley was told that “no action has been made” on the issue of on-the-runs. What followed therefore was “deception by omission” on behalf of the British Government he claimed.

Robinson last night withdrew his threat to resign after British Prime Minister David Cameron announced an inquiry to review the deal.

“The inquiry must satisfy public confidence. Individuals should not be able to use the letters as a get out of jail free card….nobody should evade justice or prosecution,” he said.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness told the recalled assembly that both the British and Irish Governments had publicly acknowledged the issue of on-the-run suspects as far back as the year 2000 when they said that they recognised there was an ongoing issue.

He said that that they agreed that it would be problematic for prosecutions to continue into events that happened before 10 April 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.

“This is not an amnesty or a get out of jail free card,” he said.

McGuinness said that this week’s controversy has been about political positioning ahead of upcoming elections and that he was “frustrated that the stability of these institutions have been questioned” as a result.

He said that he would not accept it from people who were “historically opposed to the peace process”.

“I have never kowtowed to so-called dissident republicans and I am worried that there are those who are being influenced by those at the extremes of unionist politics,” he said.

McGuinness said that if people are serious about getting justice for victims than “there is no alternative but to return to the Haas proposals and move forward”.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell attacked what he said was the “cynicism” of the UK Government in working with Sinn Féin to demonstrate a disdain for victims.

“We must know if there were any other secret deals done,” he said.

The UUP’s Mike Nesbitt said that the controversy this week demonstrated a “perversion of justice” where suspects rang the police to ask if there was any evidence against them.

Read: Peter Robinson accused of ‘playing the hard man’ after saying he won’t resign >

Read: Yes, the Irish government knew about Hyde Park bomb deal – Enda Kenny

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