Following the widely publicised collapse of the case against John Downey in relation to the Hyde Park bombing and the issue of On the Run comfort letters, Lady Justice Hallett was asked to undertake a review of the legality of the scheme given it had been identified that some people had mistakenly been given letters of comfort telling them they were not wanted by police for troubles-related offences.

As a result of the Downey judgment the PSNI is now reviewing all of the OTR cases to ensure that no further mistakes have been made, this is known as Operation Redfield.
BtP put a number of questions to the PSNI on the ongoing work.  Primarily, we asked for the current status of the operation, its resourcing and internal structure.

We had also asked for documents and correspondence from the Assistant Chief Constable responsible for Crime Operations including written orders to the team but these were not in a position to be released.

Operation Redfield was responsible for reviewing the wanted status of 228 individuals.

It has been identified that 432 incidents are linked to just 24 of those 228 individuals and the PSNI have prioritised the review of the status of 36 individuals referred to in the Hallett Report.

The review of 75 incidents have so far been completed, less than 20% of the total.
In terms of resourcing, at Feb/March 2014, the operations team included 1 Detective Chief Inspector, 2 Detective Inspectors, 3 Detective Sergeants, 7 Detective Constables and 1 part-time Adminstration officer.

However, information released to BtP shows that this has been reduced by a Detective Inspector, 1 Detective Sergeant and the Administration officer.  It is now supported by the PSNI Legacy Investigations Branch, which begs the question, is the review being given the attention it requires?

The Legacy Investigations Branch is a revamp of the HET, which came in for harsh criticism about consistency in investigating cases involves the police or security forces.

(picture credit: BBC)


Maze-Long Kesh: Saga Continues

On 15th August 2013, then-First Minister Peter Robinson stopped the development of the Maze-Long Kesh site in its tracks in a letter to DUP members, plunging the relationships at the top of the NI Executive into peril once more.

The 347-acre site of the former Maze Prison was boasted to host a £300m Peace and Reconciliation Centre, and up to 5,000 jobs.

In halting the proposed redevelopment, Mr Robinson said ‘it would be wrong to proceed with the Maze peace centre in the absence of a consensus about how it will operate’.

Since that decision by the DUP leader, any development of the site has been unceremoniously stopped and in October 2013 EU funding for the project was pulled and the £18.1m Stormont funding was divvied out between other projects, seemingly spelling the end of any movement on the site outside Lisburn.

Responding to questions in the Assembly at the time relating to the impasse, the Deputy First Minister commented that ‘No further development will take place until this is satisfactorily resolved’, and Sinn Fein firmly dug its heels in about what they deemed to be a breach of a commitment in the Programme for Government.

However, BtP can now reveal that the Maze-Long Kesh Development Corporation, which was tasked by OFMDFM to regenerate the site, is still up and running.

The Corporation, which does not even have a permanent website, and who issued their last press release in June 2013, had 15 staff prior to the DUP’s decision, and now has just over seven full time equivalent staff.

However, if indeed the DUP blocked any development on the site, and SF stuck to its position that no development would take place until the row was resolved, why have the Corporation been spending well over a million pounds on the site every year since?

In 2013-14, the Corporation spent £1.34 million, plus £363,000 on capital expenditure.  The year after, £1.31 million was spent, with £480,000 spent on capital works.  Spending up until December sat at £899,000, with capital spending at £281k, well on its way to equalling the previous years’ expenditure.

Even if we were to take salaries and running costs into consideration, it is obvious that other major expenses are being incurred at the site, despite the protestations of both the largest parties to the contrary.

Flags report a recipe for devolving Belfast disruption

A report commissioned by Dr Paul Nolan of QUB’s Education Faculty and Dr Dominic Bryan, director of the university’s School of Irish Studies has suggested that all councils in NI should fly the Union flag on council buildings 18 days per year, in an attempt to try and solve the identity crisis local government has been plunged into since the Belfast City Council decision in 2012 to fly the Union flag on designated days only.

Whilst this may sound like a rational and adult solution to a deeply divisive social issue, what in fact it will do is move the focus of the flags and identity debacle from Belfast and a few other Councils, to every Council chamber in the region.

Imagine for example Derry and Strabane District Council, an area with a huge Nationalist majority, being ordered to fly the Union flag from Council buildings 18 days of the year.  Cities such as Derry often struggle with divisive parades, and inter-community tension at certain times of the year can boil over into sporadic violence, what then would this report, if implemented do to the fragile truce that often hangs over Derry, Tyrone and parts of Fermanagh?

This report is sound academic work, backed up by a Lucid poll, but it is simply a non-starter when it comes to how these issues are addressed on the ground in our communities.