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900 jobs to go as Northern Ireland cigarette factory closes

The JTI Gallaher plant in Ballymena, Co Antrim, will close between 2016 and 2018. Credit: UTV

A cigarette factory in Northern Ireland is to close with the loss of almost 900 jobs.

The JTI Gallaher plant in Ballymena, Co Antrim has fallen victim to a restructuring programme announced by its Japanese owners Japan Tobacco International (JTI).

The closure is set to take place between 2016 and 2018, JTI announced. JTI's factory in Belgium is also closing, with production shifting to Poland and Romania.

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Back Door Britain

Former Northern Ireland secretary 'backed' paramilitary amnesties

Credit: PA Wire

Former Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid supported a selective and reversible government amnesty scheme for alleged paramilitaries but excluding members of the security forces, a newly-published document revealed.

His May 2001 letter to Tony Blair said distinguishing between deserving and undeserving terrorism suspects would be difficult since all were innocent in the eyes of the law.

He also envisaged having to use special legislation to override resistance to an amnesty law in the House of Lords.

The Labour government had already accepted publicly that discontinuing prosecutions for offences committed before the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement by supporters of organisations on ceasefire would be a "natural development", the note to the Prime Minister said.

The Good Friday Agreement meant anyone convicted of paramilitary crimes was eligible for early release.

However, this did not cover those suspected of such crimes, nor did it include people who had been charged or convicted but who had escaped from prison.

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Lewis MP: 'Catastrophic' error in John Downey case

The Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said Theresa Villiers was right to apologise at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today, describing a 'catastrophic' error in the John Downey case.

Ivan Lewis MP. Credit: Yui Mok/PA Archive/Press Association Images

[Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers] was right to apologise to the family and friends of the Hyde Park victims following the catastrophic error made in the John Downey case. I am also pleased that she was very robust in making it clear that these letters never offered any of their recipients an amnesty from prosecution. This was also the conclusion of the Hallett review. However, at a time when stability in Northern Ireland is so fragile it is essential the government is clear and unambiguous about its response to sensitive issues

– Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ivan Lewis MP

What are 'letters of comfort'?

  • Letters were given to almost 190 republicans suspected of crimes who had fled Northern Ireland
  • They gave assurances that their recipients were not wanted by police
  • The system was agreed between the last Labour administration and Sinn Fein from 2000
  • In February, a case against 62-year-old John Downey fell apart when it emerged he had been given a letter in error
  • In July, a judge-led inquiry found they were systematically flawed in operation but not unlawful in principle
  • Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has promised to clarify their status in the coming days

Villiers: 'No one should rely on' letters of comfort

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said that individuals with so-called 'letters of comfort' would be treated by the authorities in exactly the same way as individuals who did not have one.

No one should take any comfort from these letters. No one should rely on them ...

Decisions of the independent police and prosecuting authorities on whether individuals are prosecuted will be on the basis of decisions made now, not decisions made at some point in the past. And those decisions will be made on the basis of all the available evidence.

To all those who have a letter I say - if the police or prosecuting authorities have evidence which is available today or becomes available in the future to pursue you, they can and will pursue you.

– Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers

Ms Villiers said she would make a fuller written statement to Parliament in "the coming days".

NI Secretary casts doubt on terror suspects' letters

The Northern Ireland Secretary has said that republicans suspected of crimes committed during the Troubles should "no longer draw comfort" from letters informing them that police were no longer pursuing them.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Theresa Villiers told a Westminster committee that she had to clarify the status of the so-called 'letters of comfort' after a judge-led review called their accuracy into question.

The issue came to light in February when the case against a man accused of the 1982 Hyde Park bombing collapsed because it emerged he had been sent one of the letters in error.

In July, an inquiry found that the letters were flawed and "did not amount to an amnesty" for terror suspects.

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