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Tuesday, April 13, 1999 Published at 19:56 GMT 20:56 UK


Balcombe Street gang freed

The early release of paramiltaries has been controversial

The four members of the IRA's Balcombe Street gang have been freed from jail in the Irish Republic.

The Search for Peace
The men's release, announced last week, is part of the early release programme under 1998's Good Friday Agreement.

The Balcombe Street gang are named after the London road where they took a couple hostage after a street battle, and then surrendered after a six-day siege.

They were all given multiple life sentences for their part in a two-year bombing campaign in the early 1970s.

'Our Nelson Mandelas'

Leo Enright in Dublin: They were jailed for a total of 600 years
After serving 23 years in UK jails, they were last year transferred to the Irish Republic, where their release was sanctioned by Justice Minister John O'Donoghue.

The Balcombe Street four include Hugh Doherty, a brother of Pat Doherty, a leading and influential figure within Sinn Fein.

[ image: Sinn Fein conference: Gerry Adams (right) and Hugh Doherty]
Sinn Fein conference: Gerry Adams (right) and Hugh Doherty
The other members are Martin O'Connell, Harry Duggan and Edward Butler.

Last May, just a week after being sent to Ireland, the four men were allowed out for a single day to attend a special Sinn Fein conference called to consider the Good Friday Agreement.

They were given a warm reception from hundreds of delegates and President Gerry Adams went on to describe the four as "our Nelson Mandelas".

The gang joined other prisoners released for the day from jails on both sides of the border in successfully backing calls for the conference to accept the Good Friday Agreement.

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