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The BBC's Denis Murray
"There are just too many ghosts"
 real 56k

Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson
"I think it is right to bring these paramilitary prisoners back into the political process"
 real 28k

Sean O Callaghan ex-prisoner
"Some of them may well be attracted to the dissident groups either side"
 real 28k

Frankie Gallagher, Gae Lairn resettlement project
"Most of the prisoners I know actively work within the community"
 real 56k

Friday, 28 July, 2000, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Paramilitary prisoners are freed
Loyalists emerge to waiting supporters
Republicans emerge to waiting supporters
The last large group of paramilitary prisoners has been freed from Northern Ireland jails marking another landmark in the peace process.

Eighty-six prisoners, including some of Northern Ireland's most notorious bombers and killers, were freed under one of the most controversial provisions of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Most of them, 78, were freed from the top-security Maze prison near Belfast.

The loyalist UVF, UFF and LVF inmates were freed first, followed by members of the republican Irish National Liberation Army.

The process was completed with the release of 46 IRA prisoners, including Sean Kelly, convicted of nine murders after the 1993 bombing on the Shankill Road in west Belfast in which nine civilians died.

UVF prisoners did not comment as they left through the turnstiles into a car park from which they sped away.

Prisoner releases
46 IRA
12 UDA

Speaking on their behalf, William Smith of the Progressive Unionist Party which has links with the UVF said: "We acknowledge the release of prisoners today will not be welcomed by everyone and we understand and sympathise with that view.

"It is not our intention to glorify this occasion."

Convicted UFF leader Johnny Adair was among the supporters at the jail welcoming the release of UFF and UDA prisoners. He was freed from the Maze earlier this year.

John White
John White: Groups are "mindful of victims"
John White of the Ulster Democratic Party, which has links with the UDA and UFF, underscored the continuing support of those groups for the Good Friday Agreement.

He added: "As we leave the prison for the last time to embark on a new future we are mindful of the many victims of the Troubles.

"All sides have suffered greatly and we acknowledge the hurt felt by the victims of this war and their families."

Jim McVeigh, who was the IRA leader in the Maze, said: "We are determined to pursue and achieve the goals for which so many gave their lives, that is the establishment of a united democratic socialist republic".

Terrorism has triumphed today and made a mockery of our rule of law

Ishan Bashir
Victim's brother

Loyalist gunman Torrens Knight was among those freed. He was jailed for his role in the Greysteel pub massacre in 1993.

Eight people were killed when the Rising Sun bar was raked with gunfire. The gunmen shouted "trick or treat" before the shooting began.

The early release of Docklands bomber James McArdle was criticised by the relatives of one of two men to die in the 1996 explosion.

The family of 29-year-old Inam Bashir said they were devastated by the news of McArdle's release.

Ishan Bashir, 34, the victim's brother, said: "That he (McArdle) should be released, even before the date set under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, as part of a package that apparently permits the making of compensation claims by convicted terrorists is, to us, an insult.

"Terrorism has triumphed today and made a mockery of our rule of law."

Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson said that he did not feel "easy or comfortable" with prisoner releases but said it was a necessary part of the peace process.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster he said he recognised the pain caused by the releases.

"I fully accept it will be a very bitter and difficult pill to swallow, but the question is whether the peace that we have, and it's admittedly an imperfect one, justifies the pain?

"My answer to that is these decisions are not easy... in the short term they certainly won't be popular, but if they help deliver peace in the long term, I believe they are justified."

William Frazer of Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, a South Armagh-based victims' group, stood outside the prison, beside a map of the county with stickers on it marking out the hundreds who died at the hands of paramilitaries.

Gun and grenade attack

Mr Frazer, who lost members of his family during the Troubles, said: "We have people getting out here today who are serial killers, who believe they have the right to murder people in the name of their cause."

The latest wave of releases began on Monday with the freeing of loyalist killer Michael Stone, who was jailed for six murders. He killed three people during a gun and grenade attack on an IRA funeral in 1988.

The prisoners were freed on licence and bring to 428 the number of inmates freed early. They include 143 life sentence prisoners.

Some of the 14 inmates who remain in the jail have release dates later this year.

Among those staying behind bars are members of the INLA convicted of killing former LVF leader Billy Wright in the Maze in 1997.

The releases mean the jail, which has seen murders and a mass escape of IRA prisoners in 1983, will be virtually empty.

It is earmarked for closure later this year, and at that point any remaining prisoners will be transferred to Maghaberry.

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See also:

28 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Arms find 'bound for NI'
27 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Paramilitary killers in profile
28 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Mixed reaction to prisoner releases
15 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
Prison officers apply to leave service
24 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Loyalist killer freed from Maze
27 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Victims' pain as paramilitaries walk free
28 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Mandelson defends 'bitter pill'
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