By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Application forms have been issued to all 420 prisoners in the Maze jail who are eligible for early release. Loyalist and republican prisoners’ appeals will then be judged on merit — and the risk they pose to the public.
Once the prison authorities have added their comments, then the Independent Commission on Sentence Reviews will come to individual judgments on each case. The first prisoners could be free by the end of August.
Unionist reaction to the news that prisoners could be released within four weeks was furious, while the Victim Support Group says the families of victims should be kept fully informed.
The joint chairmen of the Commission, former British civil servant Sir John Blelloch and South African Brian Currin, said they would be carefully listening to victims’ views, but would not be influenced in deciding which prisoners should be granted early release.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Donaldson, the anti-Agreement Ulster Unionist MP, has responded angrily to British Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam’s assertion that the IRA war is over, saying her statement was absolutely incredible and defied belief.
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She should take her head out of the sand and realize she had been deceived, he said, while the DUP’s deputy leader, Peter Robinson, accused the British government of blatant deception and hypocrisy.
Also last week, the Northern Ireland Office confirmed that two republican prisoners were given a special 10-hour parole for a meeting with the commission. The two were Padraig Wilson, the officer commanding for IRA prisoners in the Maze jail, and Geraldine Ferrity, who has the same role in Maghaberry.
Coming within 24 hours of the release of Tommy McMahon in the Republic, jailed for his part in the Mountbatten bombing, the news also angered Unionists.
Robinson said the Northern Ireland Office had added insult to injury in an outrageous way. Not only was the NIO prepared to release murderers at an accelerated rate, it was prepared to give top IRA prisoners parole to discuss the scheme, he said.
Meanwhile, the last of the Shankill Butcher gang in custody has been freed. William Moore, who was sentenced to 14 life terms, was the last of the gang to be in jail. All the others were released.
At Moore’s trial, a judge said there was no reason whatever, apart from terminal illness, why he should be released before he died. The previous last one to be released was Robert “Basher” Bates, who was killed in a loyalist feud in June 1997.