Good Friday Agreement Early Release Scheme

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When several dozen men waited around the turnstiles of the prison before being released, the occupants showed up unannounced through an almost invisible door in the fence and were halfway to their cars waiting before their trailers realized they were outside and began to rejoice. The cars were going in convoy to get stuck in a traffic jam on the narrow road. Gerry Kelly, a sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, imprisoned as an IRA man for the Old Bailey bombing and who escaped from 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 committed to a political strategy rather than an arms conflict. « I`ve been 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, particularly trade unionists, were angered by this part of the agreement, although it was considered necessary to coax paramilitary organisations, namely the Provisional IRA, the Ulster Air Force and the Ulster Defence Association. In order to be granted early release, the prisoner had to be attached to a paramilitary organization that had established and maintained a « complete and unequivocal ceasefire ». The Sentence Review Commission decided which prisoners should be released prematurely and whether they posed a threat to society and whether they could be punished again.

Each prisoner was released with a licence that could be revoked if the Commissioners and the Minister of Northern Ireland decided to assist a paramilitary organisation or support paramilitary activities. At that time, two soldiers were in prison and they called for the early release of the Prosecuting Commissioners. The prisoner release mechanism set up under the Northern Ireland Sentences Act was the Sentence Review Commission. The law provides that all prisoners convicted of offences of more than five years` imprisonment can apply to the Commission for early release and that all releases of qualified prisoners will take place within two years of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. However, an anomaly remains (for all those who committed crimes before 1973), when the first emergency law, which contained the corresponding timetable, was passed and therefore does not enter the system. Since about half of the deaths attributed directly to the British Army (excluding the UDR) occurred between 1969 and 1973, they would decrease in the period preceding the scheme. « Under the Early Arrests Programme, which was part of the 1998 Belfast Convention and became final under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, qualified prisoners can apply for early release (under certain conditions) after serving two years in prison, » she wrote. How can you allow a provisional IRA murderer, released prematurely under the Good Friday agreement, to murder a taxi driver in Belfast, never be annulled or charged with political expediency, so that he can then be arrested and convicted of attempted murder in the Republic of Ireland? The programme, which provides for the release from prison of some 500 loyalist and republican paramilitaries, would not include Bloody Sunday at this time, as it covers only crimes committed between 1973 and 1998.