Pardons given to 13 IRA fugitives since agreement
Northern Ireland Office responds to FOI demand from lawyers
Published 25/07/2010 | 05:00
THE Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has revealed for the first time that a total of 13 IRA fugitives have been granted the Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM) since 2000.
A further five prisoners whose paramilitary affiliations are not known received similar amnesties prior to the year 2000.
Earlier this month in the Crown Court in Belfast, Mr Justice McCoghlin ruled that the NIO did not have to disclose documents held on amnesties and pardons for on-the-run prisoners.
But in response to a Freedom of Information request, the NIO last week confirmed that the RPM had been granted 18 times since 1998.
Lawyers for republican Gerry McGeough demanded documents about amnesties and pardons from the NIO in relation to a potential abuse-of-process application in June.
His legal team had raised questions over his prosecution, claiming that he has received unfair and discriminatory treatment compared to other on-the-runs.
McGeough was arrested in March 2007 as he left a polling station in Co Fermanagh, where he was standing as an independent republican in the Assembly elections. He was charged with IRA membership and the attempted murder of a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment in 1981.
McGeough wanted the NIO to disclose if there was a category of individual known as 'on-the-runs'. He also wanted to know if some on-the-runs had been treated more favourably than others because of lobbying by Sinn Fein, and whether deals were done which meant they would not be prosecuted even if there was evidence against them.
The NIO said that 18 people had been granted RPMs for a total of 36 offences and that all RPMs granted from the year 2000 related to those perceived to be prisoners with republican affiliations.
The response said that the cases from 2000 onwards were used in connection with the prisoner early release scheme set up following the Belfast Agreement of 1998, and that in each case the RPM was used to address anomalies that otherwise prevented the application of the scheme.
The NIO said that the 13 individuals who benefited from the RPM from 2000 were considered to be on the run as they had previously escaped from prison.
The response said the NIO understood that the term 'on-the-runs' referred to individuals wanted by the police or prosecuting authorities in relation to offences committed before 10 April 1998 in connection with terrorism.