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Sinn Féin would have left peace talks without 'On the Run' letters - Blair

The former British prime minister was speaking at a Westminster committee hearing today.

Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

TONY BLAIR HAS said that the Northern Ireland peace talks would have collapsed without the ‘On the Run’ letters.

The former British prime minister said the scheme was “absolutely critical to the peace process” as Sinn Féin would have withdrawn from talks if the letters had not been sent.

Under the scheme, Blair’s Labour administration assured more than 200 republican paramilitary suspects they were not being pursued by UK authorities.

Blair made the comments at a meeting of the British Parliament’s Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today.

He told the committee that he understood why victims “will never feel that killers walking free is justified” but that “hard decisions” had to be taken.

Blair added that the PSNI must have been aware of the ‘On the Run’ scheme but said he couldn’t comment on their lack of knowledge of the letters.

The committee launched its investigation after John Downey, the man accused of carrying out the IRA bombing in Hyde Park in 1982, walked free from court in February after mistakenly receiving one of the letters.

On-the-run letters controversy Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Blair said Downey should never have received the letter, adding that he took responsibility for this error.

SDLP Leader Alasdair McDonnell said now that Blair has “given his account of the deal” it is “incumbent on all others who have been asked to give evidence to recount their version of events”.

If not for the sake of accountability and defending the integrity of the peace process then in the interests of the victims and survivors who have been hurt by the manner in which this scheme came to light.

TheJournal.ie contacted Sinn Féin for comment but the party had not responded at the time of publication.

The committee is due to meet at Westminster again next Monday, 19 January.

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Órla Ryan

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