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16 October 2014
A State Apart

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Policing and Justice
Prisoners
     
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Image of loyalist mural calling for the release of their political prisoners
Loyalist mural calling for the release of their political prisoners
In early 1999, both Labour and Conservative politicians called for the suspension of early release because republicans and loyalist continued to exercise control over their communities through punishment beatings. Each time a high profile terrorist was released public opinion hardened against the scheme. When Patrick Magee, the man responsible for the 1984 Brighton bombing that killed five people at a Conservative Party Conference, was set free on 22 June 1999, the Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted the releases were "very hard to stomach". By September 1999, a Belfast Telegraph opinion poll saw a significant drop in public support for prisoner releases.
 
Audio and Video
Links to audio and video selections can be found on the last page.
Key Newspaper Articles
Blair admits an imperfect peace
Brighton bomber walks out of prison
Prisoners: How attitudes have hardened
     
The Irish government, one of the signatories to the Agreement, was accused of hypocrisy and double standards when it refused to release under the terms of the Agreement the IRA men convicted of the murder of Garda detective Gerry McCabe. Unionists asked why the British government was releasing IRA men who killed RUC officers when the Irish government refused to release those who killed its police officers.

Under the Agreement both the Irish and British governments are committed to the reintegration of paramilitary prisoners into society. The Agreement states that the "Governments continue to recognise the importance of measures to facilitate the reintegration of prisoners into the community by providing structural support both prior to and after release, including assistance directed towards availing of employment opportunities, re-training and/or re-skilling, and further education."

A support infrastructure to facilitate this reintegration is being financed by a £1.25 million grant from the European Union Peace and Reconciliation Fund, which was established in 1998 by the European Union to support the peace process. The Belfast-based Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust is managing the money.

There are over 26 community-based ex-prisoner projects spread throughout Northern Ireland and many of them provide projects which include education, job skills programs, financial and welfare advice, housing, and accommodation and family-orientated counselling.

Four paramilitary groups are excluded from the early release scheme. They are: the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA, the Red Hand Defenders and the Orange Volunteers. The INLA and the LVF both announced cease-fires in order to take advantage of the early release scheme.

 
Key Newspaper Articles
Why Jerry McCabe's killers should walk free
     
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