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Northern Ireland leader threatens to quit over IRA

February 26, 2014

DUBLIN (AP) — The leader of Northern Ireland’s unity government threatened to resign Wednesday because of revelations the British government supplied so-called “get out of jail free” letters to at least 187 Irish Republican Army fugitives as a secret part of peacemaking.

First Minister Peter Robinson said his British Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists, would never have formed a coalition with Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party, in 2007 had Britain revealed it was giving written guarantees to IRA veterans who fled to the Republic of Ireland. The letters promised recipients they no longer risked arrest when traveling into the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein demanded the measure.

Robinson threatened to quit, saying his party couldn’t support a system that was letting IRA members off the hook for bombings and shootings in the four-decade Northern Ireland conflict, which claimed about 3,700 lives. If he resigns, it potentially could bring down the government, the central institution of Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord.

He accused British government leaders of repeatedly lying to him and other Protestant opponents of the IRA.

“I want a full judicial inquiry into all of these matters, so that we can see who knew, when they knew, and what they knew,” Robinson said. “I want to know who the 187 people are that received these letters, if indeed it is only 187 people, because I wouldn’t believe anything I hear any longer.”

Britain made the admission Tuesday after a London judge threw out charges against IRA veteran John Downey for the 1982 bombing of British ceremonial troops in London’s Hyde Park, an attack that killed four soldiers and seven horses.

Downey, 62, was arrested last year at a London airport, when he showed police his letter of indemnity for arrest on outstanding IRA offenses. The judge ruled that Britain should have honored it.

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