(1) Both Governments shall establish mechanisms providing for an accelerated programme for the release of prisoners, including transferred prisoners, convicted of planned offences in Northern Ireland or, in the case of persons convicted outside Northern Ireland, of similar offences (hereinafter referred to as `qualified prisoners`). Such agreements will protect prisoners` rights under national and international law. The H-blocks emptied in just three hours today when the government released the last large group of 78 prisoners under the conditions of early release under the Good Friday Agreement. Seven others were released from Maghaberry Jail a few miles away in County Antrim and one from Magilligan Jail in County Londonderry. But Jim Gulliford, also British, said peace was the main concern. He wrote: “Without peace, the senseless killing and maiming will continue. Peace can only be achieved through compromise. At least by pursuing the liberation agenda, the British government is showing signs of the two qualities that can end the unrest: trust and goodwill. Now is the time for the IRA to do the same and take up arms forever. Last night, a spokesman for the South Armagh-based support group Families Acting for Innocent Families said the released prisoners would celebrate while its members comforted people in tears.
Conservative Party spokesman for the North Andrew Mackay sympathized with the plight of those close to them and said the release programme should have been more closely linked to the actual dismantling of weapons. 2. Detainees affiliated with organizations that have not concluded or are not respecting a complete and unambiguous ceasefire do not benefit from these arrangements. The situation in this regard will be monitored. Gerry Kelly, the Sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland Assembly who was jailed as an IRA man for the Old Bailey bombing and fled the maze in 1983, said: “All the prisoners here are victims.” Mr Kelly shook hands with each of the 46 IRA men released. He said Republicans, including prisoners, are engaged in a political strategy rather than an armed conflict. “I was in prison and I`m not a threat to anyone,” he said. This decision to release the prisoners without serving their full sentences sparked moral outrage. Many people, especially trade unionists, were angry with this part of the agreement, although it was deemed necessary to appease the paramilitary organisations, namely the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Voluntary Force and the Ulster Defence Association. In order to be granted early release, the prisoner had to be affiliated with a paramilitary organization that had established and maintained “a complete and unambiguous ceasefire.” The Sentencing Review Board decided which prisoners should be released earlier and whether they posed a threat to society and could become offenders again. Each prisoner was released with a licence that could be revoked if the Commissioners and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland decided that they had joined a paramilitary organisation or supported paramilitary activities. Prison Progressive Unionist Party spokesman William Smyth said it was a historic day as they witnessed the imminent closure of what he called a notorious prison camp.
He said they recognized that the release of prisoners was not well received by everyone, and that they understood and sympathized with this view. He said it was not their intention to glorify the occasion, and the eight men were chased away in a high-speed convoy. 3. The two governments shall complete a review process within a specified period of time and shall fix the expected release dates for all qualified prisoners. The review process would include early release dates for qualified inmates, while taking into account the seriousness of the offences for which the person has been convicted and the need to protect the community. In addition, it would be provided that all qualified prisoners who remained in detention two years after the start of the programme would be released at that time, circumstances permitting. All major terrorist groups still have one or two members behind bars in the maze. Three of the eight H blocks of the 800-cell prison are already closed. It is believed that the prison administration plans to talk to the remaining inmates to see if they can be placed in a single block and four others can be closed. Imprisoned Loyalists and Republicans were released from prison today as the latest wave of prisoner release began in Northern Ireland.
78 prisoners were released from Maze prison. In first place were 8 members of the UVF, followed by a group of men from the UDA/UFF, LVF and INLA. 46 members of the Provisional IRA were the last to be released. One of the eight remaining Republican prisoners held in Castlerea Prison has been released. Padraig Steenson had served only two and a half months of a seven-year prison sentence for explosives and firearms offences. Steenson, 36, from Dublin`s North Strand, left Castlerea Prison shortly after 1 p.m. He was accompanied by Martin Ferris, a member of Sinn Féin Árd Comhairle, and Conor Murphy, a member of the North Assembly of Armagh. He was received at the gates by Republican sympathizers, including former prisoners of Maze and Crumlin Road Prison. He and Mr Ferris demanded the release of the remaining Republican prisoners at Castlerea. Of these, five pleaded guilty to the murder of Detective Garda Gerry McCabe during a raid on a mail truck in Adare in June 1996. Recognizing the wounds felt by the victims of terrorist violence, there have been no triumphant speeches on either side.
Republicans and loyalists said the prisoners were also victims. William Smith, a former loyalist prisoner and spokesman for the Progressive Unionist Party, which represents the UVF, said: “We recognise that the release of today`s prisoners is not well received by all, and we understand and sympathise with this view. We do not intend to glorify this opportunity. A total of 428 terrorists, including 143 serving life sentences, had been released since the program began 22 months ago. Mass murderers and murderers, many of whom are responsible for the worst atrocities committed during 30 years of violence in the province, were released today to be greeted by enthusiastic supporters. In total, only 14 prisoners convicted of terrorist offences will remain in detention in the North and will serve the minimum sentence of two years required to qualify for an early release date. A total of 428 prisoners were released under the early release programme, 143 of whom were serving life sentences. The remaining prisoners will be transferred to other prisons and the complex, which began in 1971 as Long Kesh Detention Center, will be closed, although no decision has yet been made on its future use. One of the most controversial parts of the Good Friday Agreement was the decision to grant early release to some paramilitary prisoners. Up to 500 loyalist and Republican prisoners convicted before the agreement are expected to be released before the programme deadline, which is currently set at July 2000. Prisoners sentenced to five years or more in prison serve only one third of their sentence.
Prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment serve prison sentences comparable to those of a prisoner who has not been convicted of terrorist crimes, less than a third. Four paramilitary groups, the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA, the Defenders of the Red Hand and the Orange Volunteers, are not entitled to the prisoner release programme because they did not have a ceasefire at the time of the agreement. The releases were a radical move to win the support of the wider republican and loyalist communities for the Good Friday Agreement. But politicians and the families of the victims are struggling to accept the arrangement, as well-known killers such as Patrick Magee, the man responsible for the 1984 Brighton bombing that killed five people at a Conservative Party convention, are released. On the day Magee was released, Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted that the releases were “very difficult to bear”. In early 1999, opposition leader William Hague called for an end to early release, claiming that the barrage of punitive strikes on both sides violated the Good Friday Agreement. The public is also divided, as emails to BBC News Online`s Talking Point showed: “Mr Blair should keep in mind that appeasement has not worked for Mr Chamberlain,” wrote Jon Vincent of the UK. “At the moment, the peace process seems to be a cynical ruse for some participants.” But Jim Gulliford, also British, said peace was the main concern. He wrote: “Without peace, the senseless killing and maiming will continue.
Peace can only be achieved through compromise. At least by pursuing the liberation agenda, the British government is showing signs of the two qualities that can end the unrest: trust and goodwill. Now is the time for the IRA to do the same and take up arms forever. Regarding the prison, he added: “These barbed wire fences and cannon towers tell a very dark and brutal story that many in our society ignore. Only those who have experienced this gray and cruel world of captivity can truly understand the hardships and sufferings it can bring. On the day Magee was released, Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted that the releases were “very difficult to bear”. .