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DUP Knew About IRA Letters, Says McGuinness
The resignation of Northern Ireland's first minister over the so-called IRA suspect amnesties would achieve nothing, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has said.
The deputy first minister said Peter Robinson's threat to resign, effectively collapsing the Stormont administration, was not the way forward and that it was time for "cool heads" and "steady leadership".
He claimed the Democratic Unionist Party knew about the deal which led to letters being sent to "on-the-run" terror suspects informing them they would not be arrested.
Mr McGuinness said the agreement on the so-called "get-out-of-jail-free" letters was actually widely known, the information was in the public domain and that it had been written about in a book by Tony Blair's former chief of staff, Jonathan Powell.
"We weren't the only ones who knew about this," he said.
Speaking after a Thursday morning meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, Mr McGuinness confirmed the British Government was considering a judicial review of the 187 letters sent to Republican paramilitaries.
Mr Robinson threatened to resign on Wednesday saying he had been "kept in the dark". He demanded a public inquiry and gave the coalition 24 hours to agree before he stepped down.
It represents David Cameron's biggest test on Northern Ireland since he became Prime Minister.
But Mr McGuinness said if Mr Robinson quit the problems would still remain. He said: "The question has to be asked: 'What would that achieve?' Absolutely nothing."
The political crisis was triggered by the collapse of the trial of the Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey on Tuesday.
Mr Downey is suspected of involvement in the 1982 Hyde Park bombing, which killed four members of the Household Cavalry and seven of their horses.
However, he was told by a judge that he would not be prosecuted because he had been sent a letter by Northern Ireland police in 2007 saying he would not be arrested, despite an outstanding Metropolitan Police arrest warrant for the attack.
Some 187 letters have been sent out as part of the peace process - 38 have been sent since the coalition came to power in 2010 - although the applications were received before then, and the last was in December 2012.
Mr Robinson maintains he had no knowledge of the letters and has also raised the issue of Royal Pardons, which he said had been used to grant IRA terror suspects an effective amnesty for offences.
He said: "It appears that we are not just dealing with on-the-runs who received letters, but we are also dealing with people who received the Royal Prerogative of Mercy - that indicates there were offences involved.
"So we are not talking just about people who it is believed that the police did not have sufficient evidence to make a prosecution stick - that makes it a very serious matter."
Nick Clegg told Sky News on Thursday morning that the Government was "urgently looking" at a full inquiry and would respond to Mr Robinson within the deadline.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "When serious concerns are raised, it's a matter of urgency to consider these things but discussions are ongoing. I'm not going to try and pre-judge how those will pan out."
Asked about claims that royal pardons had been given, he replied: "Clearly, all the issues that the First Minister raises will, of course, be looked at."
Defence Minister Anna Soubry, a former barrister, has warned there was no chance of a judicial review.
"You can't judicially review the decision," she said.
"You can appeal it, the prosecution can appeal it. The Crown Prosecution Service has taken the view that these are not the right circumstances to appeal it."
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