A British minister, meanwhile, has said he doesn’t believe the Northern Ireland Offences Bill will go through parliament in London unscathed. Lord Rooker said in his view it would have to be amended, without saying precisely how.
The SDLP claims that Sinn Fein, either through incompetence or cynicism, gave London the opportunity it wanted to cover-up the misdeeds of police officers and British soldiers involved in collusion.
Sinn Fein, though, says the British government used a deal, arrived at in good faith during negotiations, to include agents of the state in the partial amnesty proposed to regularize the position of the so-called “on the runs.”
The SDLP is claiming that loyalist drug dealers will be able to use the legislation to “skip prison.”
The party claimed it had already shown that the legislation would “set state killers free” and now says drug dealers would also benefit. “They will all be eligible even though loyalist groups continue to deal drugs to this day”, said policing spokesman Alex Attwood.
“This is because the legislation applies to any offence ‘in connection with terrorism.’ Drug dealing and racketeering done to raise money for LVF, UVF or UDA godfathers will therefore be covered.
“Sinn Fein boasts that it never signs off on anything until it sees the legislation. Martin McGuinness defended this legislation the day after it was published. These are the facts,” said Attwood.
The SDLP also said that Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy had flown to London to welcome the legislation the day after the British government made public it would apply to state collusion.
And, said Attwood, it had taken Gerry Adams “a whole two weeks to come out and say that the legislation should not apply to state collusion.”
“It is not just state killers that the British and Sinn Fein together have let off the hook – it’s loyalists too”, said the SDLP’s justice spokesman Alban Maginness. “People have not realized yet that there are hundreds of loyalist killers who will now not have to face a day in court.
“There is a simple way out of this mess for Sinn Fein. They must call on the British government to call the whole thing off and scrap this legislation,” he said.
Sinn Fein hit back, however, with president, Gerry Adams, expressing outright opposition to any amnesty for British state forces involved in collusion and other state killings.
“Sinn Fein did not support, propose, discuss or accept that members of the British state forces should be part of the process. For this reason we did not argue for an amnesty,” he said.
“On the contrary, we sought to ensure the scheme would not hinder the search for the truth or provide immunity for members of British state forces who carried out or were responsible for state killings and collusion.
“The scheme that we negotiated was published by the two governments in 2003 and related only to ‘on the runs.’ It did not include members of British state forces.
“Sinn Fein’s position is absolutely clear, we are opposed to the inclusion of British state forces. In our view it is the latest attempt by the British state to conceal the truth about its involvement in the killing of citizens,” he said.
“Our party activists, including elected representatives, were a primary target in this policy of state murder,” Adams said.
Veteran republican Brian Keenan, believed to be the IRA’s link man with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, also criticized the SDLP for its stand on the “on the run” legislation, saying “the republican leadership would never be involved in such an underhand thing. We have too much respect both for the people in this area, the people right across, who sustained this war for so long.”
However, SDLP’s Maginness responded: “Once again the selfish interests of the Provisional movement in getting their people off and home comes before the interests of justice and truth for the victims of the Troubles.”