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ROYAL PARDONS 'WILL NOW BE MADE PUBLIC' Government reacts to OTR report.

Byline: MICHAEL McHUGH

FUTURE royal pardons in Northern Ireland should be published, the Government has said.

Ministers again ruled out revealing the names of paramilitaries who have already received the Royal Prerogative of Mercy because it could jeopardise future trials.

They were used in some terror-related cases to shorten jail terms in the years after the Good Friday Agreement.

The pardon allows changes in sentences without the backing of, or consultation with, parliament.

It was investigated as part of a wider probe by Lady Justice Heather Hallett into a government scheme for fugitive republicans which led to the collapse of a trial over the IRA's Hyde Park bombing.

The Government said: "We accepted the recommendation of the Hallett Report to establish a register for current and future use of the RPM. This involves the NIO and the Justice Department sharing info.

"The practice of publishing the use of the RPM in the London Gazette for cases in England and Wales only applies where the RPM has been used to grant a free pardon - not where the RPM has been used to shorten or commit sentences.

"In future where use of the RPM is considered in Northern Ireland to grant a free pardon, the Government will take full account of the committee's recommendation and the expectation will be such a use will be published in the Belfast Gazette."

Pardons, issued by the Queen on advice from her ministers, date back decades.

Senior DUP politicians have urged the Government to name those involved in offences who received them as part of investigations into the On The Runs scheme.

The Northern Ireland Commons Committee probed the OTRs system which began when Tony Blair was prime minister and collapsed the trial of John Downey who was accused of the murder of four soldiers during the 1982 Hyde Park bombing. On The Runs is the term used to refer to people who are suspected of, but never charged with paramilitary offences.

It was a process that involved letters being given to republicans assuring them they were not wanted by police anywhere in the UK but not ruling out future prosecutions if new evidence emerged.

Mr Downey received one in error when he was actually sought by the Met over Hyde Park. Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has repeatedly denied the letters constituted an amnesty and said they should not impede future prosecutions.

The OTRs controversy also focused attention on royal pardons.

Paramilitaries serving sentences who were behind bars after the Agreement were released in a decision which was unpalatable to unionists but critical to Sinn Fein backing the deal. Others who escaped were not covered.

In its response to the Government's reoport the committee of MPs said: "The Government has made clear its position publishing the names of individuals in receipt of the RPM.

i "The Government does not consider it appropriate to publish the names given the legal and privacy concerns that are present.

cnc "There is a risk that by publishing names relating to individuals that received the RPM or letter under the OTR scheme, that this would jeopardise future prosecutions, either make them more difficult or increase the risk of an abuse of process argument being successfully run."

nrOjmta irish@mgn.co.uk

Where RPM is used in Northen Ireland, it will be published GOVERNMENT SOURCE yesterday

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FIASCO John Downey's trial collapsed
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 22, 2015
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