The Northern secretary of state, Peter Hain, said the legislation will be brought before Parliament in London this month despite a furious response from the DUP leader, Ian Paisley, who said it amounted to abject “surrender” to republicans.
Hain said he would be taking advice from the police as to who would be included in the scheme. “They [police] have a number of suspects for crimes – I readily concede crimes that in some cases were horrific,” he said.
Dozens are likely to be affected, mainly people living in the Republic who had either evaded capture or had escaped from imprisonment. Sometimes, said Hain, undesirable things had to be done in the interests of conflict resolution but he understood the real concerns of many people in Northern Ireland.
First indications are that the Irish government does not intend reciprocating as those involved would include two men wanted for questioning about the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe.
Sinn Fein has repeatedly pressed for the measure. Its supporters are most likely to benefit from the legislation as few loyalists are thought to be on the list of “on the runs”.
Paisley said the move was “very, very disturbing” and showed the “blackmailing power of Sinn Fein” was so influential that such an “atrocious” demand would be met.
“Call it what you may, the proposed legislation is to all intents and purposes an unconditional amnesty. Once a terrorist gets the certificate of clearance, they are beyond the pale of the courts,” said Paisley.
“Their lawlessness has become lawful. This is the most unconditional surrender that any British Government has ever engaged itself in.
“Terrorists will say they have won the war in which they were engaged”, he said. “For all-time to come they will do nothing but trample on the unionist population until the people of Northern Ireland are made serfs of republicanism.
“The greatest possible resistance must be organized against these proposals. There must be no giving in to these unjustifiable demands. If the British government has no stomach for the fight, the unionist population will have none of the propaganda and spin and in no way will they give tolerance to such betrayal,” he said.
“The next move will be the inclusion of IRA personnel in the police and soon well-known IRA men will be ruling their own districts with the authority of the government. In no way must these serious surrenders be allowed to come to fruition. It is now or never that the battle for Ulster’s soul will be won,” Paisley