Irish Republican News · March 28, 2015
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Britain may expose royal pardon recipients
Britain may expose royal pardon recipients

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British Prime Minister David Cameron has threatened to identify leading republicans who received British royal pardons following a furore over the revelation that senior Sinn Fein politician Gerry Kelly received a pardon in the 1980s.

Mr Kelly was arrested in the Netherlands in 1986, about three years after he escaped from Long Kesh prison.

According to Sinn Fein officials, the British government chose to grant Kelly the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in order to quash his convictions that pre-dated the escape, including a conviction for an IRA attack on the Old Bailey court in London -- in order to extradite him to face charges in connection with the escape.

Upon his return to Ireland, he spent three years in jail before being released.

In response to a question on a radio talk show by hardline Traditional Unionist Voice leader, Jim Allister, Kelly said: “The Dutch said they would not extradite me unless the British quashed the sentences. Now it was up to the British to quash the sentences whatever way they wanted to quash them. If they chose to produce a prerogative then that’s the way they did.

“I don’t care what ... was done. The point was I came back to Ireland as a remand prisoner as opposed to doing this length of sentence because the Dutch, their courts, came to the conclusion that it was not just.”

Allister had earlier hinted in Stormont that he had information that Mr Kelly had received a pardon and claimed there was a “heart of darkness” in the centre of the peace process.

The debate arose following a report by a Westminster parliamentary committee which accused present and former British governments of discriminating in favour of Sinn Fein by quietly operating a scheme to issue so-called ‘comfort letters’ to assure recipients that they faced no prosecution.

One former IRA Volunteer, John Downey, was arrested and charged in London in 2013 in regard to a 1982 attack in the city. However the case against the County Donegal man collapsed after his legal team produced one of the letters, revealing the scheme.

Villiers has said repeatedly that the letters do not amount to an amnesty -- but admissions this week that rescinding them may require a legislative change contradicts that.

Gerry Kelly said the parliamentary committee’s report was politically driven and drawn up by opponents of Sinn Fein. He said a report last year by a senior British judge had found that the scheme was both legal and in the public domain.

“The Hallet report contained 29 pages detailing reporting of the scheme in public,” he said.

“The British government themselves identified that extraordinary measures were required to deal with the issue of on the runs. It was a key component of the Weston Park agreement announced by both the British and Irish governments.”

However, it was later reported that the British police now intend to pursue charges against six former IRA Volunteers who were given such letters by the Blair government.

‘TECHNICAL’ PARDONS

British officials also revealed that sixteen republicans received pardons between 2000 and 2002. They provided an amnesty for those republicans who were supportive of the peace process and “for technical reasons” fell outside the terms of the early release scheme of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

No details were released on members of the Crown forces or loyalist agents who are also understood to have received pardons to protect them from prosecution.

Last year, British Direct Ruler Theresa Villiers disclosed that 365 royal pardons had been issued between 1979 and 2002. She also claimed that records of those who received pardons in the decade prior to 1998 have been lost, a claim viewed with some scepticism.

In the Commons on Wednesday, North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds of the DUP asked the British prime minister to release the names of all republicans who were granted royal pardons “so that republicans in Northern Ireland can know which of their stalwart leaders have either begged or asked or received probably on bended knee such a royal pardon”.

Cameron said he would consider the request. He added that past governments had had to make “difficult decisions” for peace.

“I will look very carefully at what the member asks and what more we can do to be transparent,” he said. “Governments in the past have had to make difficult decisions with respect to Northern Ireland to try to bring parties together and produce the peaceful outcome we have today.

“That has involved difficult compromises and things that he and probably I have found at times deeply distasteful. But sometimes in the pursuit of peace these things have to be done.”

© 2015 Irish Republican News