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Memo shows 'unease' among British officials at royal pardon for IRA's Kelly and McFarlane


Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane Photo: Stephen Collins / Collins

Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane Photo: Stephen Collins / Collins

Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane Photo: Stephen Collins / Collins

An IRA bomber was granted a royal pardon for an attack on a Belfast pub which killed five people.

Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth for bombing the Bayardo Bar in 1975. Three explosives convictions linked to the attack were commuted by the 'Royal Prerogative of Mercy' to enable his extradition to Northern Ireland, new documents show.

McFarlane had been on the run with Gerry Kelly, now a Sinn Féin MLA, after the 1983 Maze Prison escape. The pair were returned from Holland in 1986. Part of the agreement with Dutch authorities involved the men being granted the royal pardon. However, it caused disquiet for officials, one of whom warned it was likely to be "misrepresented".

The papers are contained in previously classified files released by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

McFarlane, now a supporter of the peace process and a senior member of Sinn Féin, was given five life sentences for the Bayardo Bar attack. He was described in official papers as "very cunning and extremely resourceful". It adds: "He is a dedicated terrorist and the most careful security precautions are essential for his safe containment."

Kelly was serving two life terms for his part in car bomb attacks on the Old Bailey and Scotland Yard in 1973. He was described as an "extremely dangerous, resourceful and dedicated terrorist".

A confidential memo dated November 12, 1986, states: "I agree we should accept McFarlane on the conditions set out by the Dutch Supreme Court, which provide for him to continue to serve his life sentences for murder and to face charges for certain less serious offences in connection with the Maze escape.

"I assume action under the royal prerogative will be necessary to implement this decision, i.e., to remit his sentences for the three convictions for explosives offences for which he is held to be not extraditable."

The same memo outlines the British government's unease at having to give Kelly and McFarlane pardons, but acknowledges "genuine legal reasons".

But it adds "the use of the royal prerogative... will be extremely controversial and is quite likely to be widely misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented: 'London bomber given royal pardon', etc, in the headlines."

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