The H-blocks emptied today in just three hours as 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. 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. It started with 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. In recognition of the pain 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 prisoners today is not welcomed by everyone, and we understand and sympathise with this view.
We do not intend to glorify this opportunity. The early release of prisoners is one of the most difficult parts of the Good Friday Agreement. The Northern Ireland (Sentencing) Act provides the framework for releases and contains important safeguards for the protection of the public. It ensures that prisoners who support organizations that have not established or do not respect complete and unambiguous ceasefires are not released prematurely. 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, who is 36 years old and comes from Dublin`s North Strand, was released from Castlerea Prison shortly after 1pm. He was accompanied by Martin Ferris, Sinn Féin member Árd Comhairle, and Conor Murphy, member of the North Assembly of Armagh. He was received at the gates by Republican sympathizers, including former prisoners of Maze and Crumlin Road prisons. 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. Former UVF commander Johnny Adair, who himself was released prematurely from the maze a few months ago, greeted the aspiring prisoners. “My friends and comrades are the home of their families,” he said. “I hope this is the end of the conflict, the end of the labyrinth – more suffering, more pain and more young men who have to go back to prison.” 2. Prisoners associated with organisations that have not implemented or will not respect a complete and unambiguous ceasefire will not benefit from these agreements. The situation in this regard will be further examined. All the major terrorist groups still have the strange limb behind bars of the maze. Three of the eight H blocks of the 800-cell prison are already closed. The prison administration plans to talk to other inmates to see if they can be housed in one block and if there are four others that can be closed. (1) Both Governments shall establish mechanisms providing for an accelerated programme for the release of prisoners, including transferred prisoners, convicted in Northern Ireland of offences or, in the case of persons convicted outside Northern Ireland, of similar offences (hereinafter referred to as `qualified prisoners`). These rules protect prisoners` rights under national and international law. The early release of prisoners is one of the most difficult parts of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Northern Ireland (Sentencing) Act provides the framework for release and contains important safeguards for the protection of the public. “We have prisoners coming out here today who are serial killers who believe they have the right to murder people in the name of their cause,” said Frazer, who lost his father, two uncles, two cousins and many friends in the conflict. The Sentencing Review Board was established by the Northern Ireland (Sentencing) Act 1998 and was co-chaired by Brian Currin, a South African human rights lawyer, and Sir John Blelloch, a retired senior official in the Northern Ireland Office. The Commissioners for the Review of Sentences in Northern Ireland have been appointed to supervise and regulate the early release of certain prisoners convicted during the period of unrest known as unrest. It was created by the Belfast Agreement, which allowed the release of up to 500 Loyalist and Republican prisoners convicted before 10 April 1998 before 28 July 2000. 3. Both governments shall complete a review process within a fixed time frame and set the expected release dates for all qualified detainees. The review procedure provides for the advance of the dates of release of qualified prisoners, 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, if circumstances permit, all qualified inmates who remained in custody two years after the start of the program would be released at that time. 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, have now run freely to be greeted by enthusiastic supporters.
It was a day of contrasts, restraint on the part of the loyalists and celebrations on the part of the Republicans. The UVF were the first men and almost missed their followers. They rushed without comment, most hiding their faces from the cameras and being greeted by small groups of men who were also hiding behind baseball caps, scarves and dark glasses. 2. Detainees belonging to organisations that have not concluded or are not respecting a complete and unambiguous ceasefire shall not benefit from the regime. The situation in this regard is constantly being reviewed. Among those who have been granted freedom today are some of the North`s most notorious Republican prisoners, including Brighton suicide bomber Patrick Magee; Sean Kelly, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 Shankill bombing, in which nine Protestants were killed; IRA man Thomas Begley; Docklands bomber James McArdle and those convicted of the murder of Lance Bombadier, Stephen Restorick, the last British soldier killed in the north. Torrens Knight, a prominent loyalist, who was convicted of a total of 12 murders, including that of the Rising Sun Bar in Greysteel in October 1993, is also awaiting release. All major terrorist groups still have one or two members behind Maze`s bars. 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. Prison Progressive Unionist Party spokesman William Smyth said it was a historic day as they witnessed the imminent closure of what he considered a notorious prison camp. He said they recognized that the release of the prisoners would not be welcomed by everyone, and that they understood and sympathized with that view. He said it was not their intention to glorify the occasion, and the eight men were chased away in a high-speed convoy. This decision to release the prisoners without serving their full sentences sparked moral outrage. Many people, especially trade unionists, were upset by 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. .