In my written ministerial statement on 25 February, following the judgment in the case of John Downey, I indicated that around 200 people were subject to the scheme established by the previous government to deal with so-called ‘On-the-runs’ (OTRs).
I also stated that my department is working with the police and prosecuting authorities to check whether anyone sent a letter under the scheme is wanted for an offence committed before the date of the letter.
That process has included work to reconcile the different information held by Northern Ireland Office, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Sinn Féin to determine the actual numbers dealt with by the scheme.
On 11 March I announced the appointment of Lady Justice Hallett to conduct an independent inquiry of these and other aspects of the operation of the OTR scheme.
The provision of a full public account of the scheme will only be possible after the completion of this inquiry. However, I am now in a position to give some further clarification following work undertaken by the NIO. This information remains provisional pending completion of the investigation by Lady Justice Hallett.
The information we will provide to the Hallett Inquiry will include the following: Records held by my department indicate that a total of 207 names were provided by Sinn Féin or by solicitors on their behalf. A further 10 names were identified by the Prison Service and 4 by the Irish Government, bringing the total to 221. In addition, the PSNI’s records show that they received a further 7 names which do not appear to have been passed to the NIO for consideration.
To date, the process of reconciling the numbers has disclosed that 45 individuals have had their cases considered since this government came to power in May 2010, rather than the 38 I stated in answer to the Hon Member for East Belfast on 4 March 2014.
This recent work has also indicated that 3 of these cases were passed to the PSNI by solicitors and then notified to the NIO after May 2010.
Since May 2010, 12 individuals have been sent letters by the NIO stating that on the basis of the evidence available they were not wanted by the police, with the final one of these sent in December 2012.
As I have made clear, none of the letters contained any amnesty, immunity or exemption from prosecution. If the government had been presented with such a scheme on coming to office, we would have stopped it.