Former prime minister Tony Blair has defended his controversial on-the-runs (OTR) scheme for republicans during the peace process.
Mr Blair said the scheme was part of his government’s efforts to prevent further terror-related deaths.
“That was what we were trying to resolve,” he said.
“It was a very difficult situation but we did the best we could with it.”
The OTR scheme was set up by Mr Blair’s Labour government in 2000 in response to Sinn Fein lobbying for republicans who had fled the UK during the Troubles.
Names were passed to the Government and, if they were declared as not being wanted, letters of assurance were issued.
Mr Blair expanded on the rationale for the scheme after being challenged by DUP MP Carla Lockhart, who questioned the fairness of the scheme for victims and their families.
“The problem with on-the-runs was very simple,” Mr Blair said.
“You might agree with it or not agree with it but in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement we essentially were releasing the people who’d been convicted of acts of terrorism.
“Naturally, over time this grew and became an issue as to what do you do about the people who have not been convicted.
“It would be irrational if we were going after those people whilst we had actually released the people who had been convicted of terrorism.”
Ms Lockhart said the OTR scheme was “a backroom deal that wasn’t written into any text”.
Mr Blair said he had previously addressed assertions the deal was secret.
“When people used to call it a secret deal, it was mentioned in parliamentary answers and we were pretty open about it that there was a problem we had to deal with,” he said.
Ms Lockhart further challenged Mr Blair, citing the impact the scheme has on victims 23 years after its creation.
“We have victims today, who every time they see and hear of these individuals – who received the get-out-of-jail-free card – are retraumatised by seeing these individuals who are blatantly glorifying terrorism and flaunt it in the face of victims,” she said.
Mr Blair said: “The problem is they didn’t have a get-out-of-jail-free card because these were the people in respect from the police who said they didn’t have sufficient evidence to charge them.”
In a statement after the committee session, Ms Lockhart said Mr Blair lacked remorse.
“As expected, no regret or remorse was shown for his leading role in the scheme,” she said.
“One would have hoped that having seen the hurt caused by the OTR scheme, he would have had time to reflect and reconsider the appropriateness of the scheme.
“That is clearly not the case.”
Content provided by Radio NewsHub. Originally published on 2023-03-16 15:45:00.