Category: Archive

British Prisoner challenge perplexes Sinn Fein

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — An attempt by British Home Secretary Jack Straw to challenge an order freeing four high-profile IRA prisoners under the peace agreement has been described as "quite deliberate provocation" by the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

Straw’s move in the Belfast High Court has baffled legal and political opinion as it comes at a time when tensions are running high and there are intense negotiations on the decommissioning issue.

It has been suggested the challenge is intended to send a message that some IRA prisoner releases may be delayed if there is no move on decommissioning.

The Sentences Review Commission decided on release dates for the prisoners, who include Patrick Magee, who is serving seven life sentences for the 1984 Brighton bombing, which nearly wiped out Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet at their party conference.

Magee was to be released on June 22 and the other three — Thomas Quigley, Paul Kavanagh and Gerard McDonnell — were due to be freed from the Maze Prison on Tuesday.

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All had been convicted of offenses in Britain in the 1980s and had been repatriated to Northern Ireland after the Good Friday agreement.

Under the terms of the agreement, the men have to be released by July 28, 2000 at the latest.

Straw is seeking a "judicial clarification" of the early release process.

This involves a complex legal challenge on the basis that the men should be serving a longer term than that set by the commission because the tariff — or minimum time that can be served — is longer for a for a life sentence in England than in Northern Ireland.

Lawyers for Straw argued that the Commission had reduced the tariffs for the four prisoners by three-fifths from 50 years to 21 years. They argued the commissioners had treated the men as if they had been sentenced in Belfast instead of in London and said they were on temporary transfer to the North.

The case was described a "cock-up" and as "vindictive and petty" by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

"There can be no sensible or reasonable explanation for a British Home Secretary upending a commission of senior, trusted and renowned people."

The hearing was still continuing as the Echo went to press.

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