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Thursday, January 22, 1998 Published at 10:48 GMT

Talking Point

Should prisoners take part in the Northern Ireland peace process? Your reaction

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There is no point of excluding anybody in the peace talk if their exclusion means no peace at all at the end of the talk. In talks one will have to negotiate with people whose opinion or action you do not agree with. Whether one's opponent is in prison or in exile is irrelevant.
Sinleeh, United Kingdom

Soldiers or not, criminals or not does it really matter? Black and white generalisations seem pretty pointless when the fact of the matter is if they are not included then they will probably continue killing, if they are there's a chance for peace. Which would you prefer?
Nigel Marsh, Denmark (UK Citizen)

If Loyalist prisoners are consulted, then it is only fair and equitable that Republican prisoners are consulted too. However, these people are all criminals. They are not, as some people (particularly from the US), would have us think; freedom fighters on some romantically-motivated crusade against oppression - they were already free. This political prisoner/prisoner of conscience business is sheer nonsense, especially when they revert to violence whenever they do not get their way or run out of patience with negotiations.
Geoff Acres, Austria (UK Citizen)

I fail to see how someone imprisoned for using or facilitating the use of violence to achieve a goal should have any say in the peaceful negotiations. The whole purpose of a democracy is to achieve through debate not disorder.
C. Dickens, United Kingdom

The reason for the peace process is because of the terrorism forced upon the citizens of Britain and Ireland by all paramilitary groups. The peace process is important for the future of Northern Ireland. How can you have a peace settlement if you do not include the people responsible for the violence. If you do not include them, they have every right to continue their program of violence.
Sean Clarke, South Korea

First I feel it needs to be said that the majority of the Maze prisoners would not be incarcerated if not for the Troubles. These men are not criminals, and whether we choose to agree with their tactics or believe as they do, they should not be treated as such. They are soldiers. Of course they should be included in the process. To be blunt, their opinions weigh too heavily within their own communites to be disregarded, despite their convict status.
Matthew Nord, USA

Prisoners that are non violent have some right to be heard but not those that went out of my morals (I' m judgemental). People that block things and are there to get arrested are willing to take responsibility but if someone wants to take credit for violence how likely is it they will listen to others and hear them after they have spoken? P.S. Take everything with a grain of salt.
Rodney Bruemmer, U.S.A.

These men are not criminals - they are prisoners of war. You may not like to think of them as such, but that is what they are. This fact is borne out by the "special status" (officially denied but evident from the conditions in the Maze) that is accorded to them. No-one joins the IRA or UDA (or UFF, UVF, LVF or whatever) lightly. The peace process will survive or founder on these men, make no mistake about this, so "Yes!" their involvement is necessary. However, the present crisis is due to the unionists unwillingness to enter meaningful talks and their reluctance to consider any actions to redress the years of discrimination and oppression that have been perpetrated on the nationalist people in Ireland.
Peter Wallace UK

There is a lot of prisoners on the world, the part of them, are also terrorists and murderers, who should be executed and not be a part of peace processes. But there are also prisoners of conscience and political, who are and also should be in the future a part of peace processes.
Marek Madar, Slovakia

N. Ireland needs change, politicians and prisoners with set views cannot give us that. Democracy does not work in N. Ireland, I don't know what will.
Raymond Johnston BSc., from N.Ireland now living in Scotland

One of the cornerstones Of Unionism is the demand that the people of Northern Ireland have the right to be treated in exactly the same way as they would on mainland UK. In the rest of the UK, however, it is inconceivable that MPs would meet, and therefore, ligitimise these so-called political prisoners. The road that David Trimble and co. are walking down is a very dangerous one - terrorism is terrorism, whether nationalist or loyalist. As Sinn Fein / IRA have proved, bombing and shooting can get you to the negotiating table. But do Unionists want to repeat this process via Loyalist gunmen?
Peter Brown, UK

Prisoners should never be involved in peace actions.
Seeker P.R.China

It makes my blood boil to see so called respected politicians running to talk to convicted murderers and bombers. How can anyone treat criminals as if they are special when they have been convicted for the simple reason that they stepped outside of the democratic process accepted by the vast majority on both sides.
M Brimacombe Devon, UK

If we listen to prisoners we give them more credibility, and they see that they get somewhere from killing and bombing - and will therefore do even more.
Gavin Smith, Northern Ireland

These men have devoted their lives to this struggle - any settlement must include them. If not they will fight on. Peace can only be made between the combatants.
T A Glynn, USA

Having left Belfast many years ago it never ceases to amaze me on the right to speak out. Both sides are 100% right in their love affair with Ulster. Allowing both sides the chance to present their viewpoint will uncover a fuller understanding of the feelings of the people by the people. Sometimes the best lessons are learned from the teachers we hate the most. Give peace a chance ....Listen.....Listen........Listen
Bill Thompson, Canada

I feel that the prisoners should be involved in the peace process because, Even though some people might thing them without rights, it is they who will make or break any pact. Once discharged they may take up their old quarrels again and bloodshed might result. However, if they are brought into in the process and felt they had a meaningful input, the results could be quite good. We must remember that everyone is caught in an old vortex and everyone should pull together to escape its suffocating embrace.
Rev. Dr. Aaron R. Orr, Canada (Formerly from Ulster)

To leave the prisoners out of the peace process would seem to doom it. I do not support violence as a means to resolve the differences - it only serves to breed more violence and deepen the gulfs between the factions. But to ignore those who have felt that violence was a suitable means would only serve to confirm to them that they don't otherwise have a voice. At some point one has to forgive the wrongs of the past and look forward, only forward.
Roy Axford, USA

However deplorable the actions of the prisoners and their respective paramilitaries have been, the reality is that the peace process is unlikely to succeed without their support. We must not forget too that the loyalist prisoners have maintained their ceasefire for 3 years, which has been as vital an ingedient to progess as the IRA ceasefire.
Now the task facing all responsible parties in the talks is to continue to keep their respective constituents on board if at all possible: We cannot be too squeamish about the records of loyalist or nationalist prisoners. However a balance must be struck to keep them involved whilst preventing anyone exercising a veto.
If that sounds difficult that is because it is. We can only hope that the pressures to maintain the peace outweigh the temptation to go back to the methods of violence. .
Robert Taylor, UK

Political parties are not at war so they don't need peace talks. Paramilitaries are at war and they should talk. Some of them may be convicted felons, but if you want peace, let them talk.
Zoran Obradovic, Slovenia

The instinctive reaction is to say that people convicted of violent crimes should have no say in things. However, peaceful settlements to conflict almost always involves talking to former enemies who may well be in prison. This has been the case in South Africa, Zimbabwe and the Middle East, as well as in Eastern Europe.
We need to be pragmatic about things - if swallowing a few principles by talking to these men can help bring an end to the needless conflict which has bedevilled Northern Ireland for so long, then surely it's a price worth paying?
Neil Tonks, UK

Whilst the opinions of the citizens of Northern Ireland should be heard, those that practice and advocate violence to further their goals should have no such right. By allowing them such a voice their violent actions would be legitimised.
Matthew Cunliffe, UK

There is clearly one law for the rest of those in Britain and another in Northern Ireland. The conditions in the Maze, detailed in your excellent article this week, demonstrate that terrorists are treated as legitimate political prisoners in the province. The government should crack down. It would certainly be be bloody and difficult. But in the end it would sort the age-old Irish question out.
James Rotheray, UK

The only struggle these men have devoted themselves to is the cause of slaughter. I may support the Unionist point of view, however, I think the so called "Loyalists" have a funny way of showing their loyalty to the Crown, by committing the most serious of crimes.
These self styled soldiers would merely be common thugs in any other part of the country. I hope that soon the people of Northern Ireland will have the courage to stand up to thugs like them and move towards peace. If the will power of every politician was strong enough then it could be done.
Kevin Foster, UK

All should take part. Taking part does not necessarily mean getting your way.
Simon Avarne, UK

By willful commitment of felony they have made their choice and will continue to do so. Peace is for those who want it and are willing to work for it. Taking the opinions of felons is like throwing an anchor overboard just prior to shoving off. It makes for rather rough going.
William Porter, Ohio, USA

People who believe that they are above the democratic process should not be allowed a voice.
Ian Butcher, USA

Successive governments have refused to accept these people as having any status other than that of convicted criminals.
If this is to remain the case, why should they have any "special" voice? Convicted criminals even lose their votes!
Mel Rowing, UK

Only if both sides of the equation are dealt with equally. However, we should not forget about the view of the majority of the population, who do not reside in prison.
D Brownlee, UK

These prisoners have been denied physical liberty because of terrorist action. If people feel so strongly as to act violently for the sakes of their beliefs, then surely we should listen to them. It is not peaceful people who have been causing the terror and anxiety in Northern Ireland; it is the violent ones. If such violent people are not satisfied with the peace process, then peace is not going to come; they have to be included. Otherwise we would be approaching the matter quite blindly.
Estelle Levin, Scotland

We either regard Maze prisoners as criminals with no political concessions or as captured soldiers fighting a 'cause'. It is my understanding that prisoners anywhere in UK do not have a vote in elections therefore fail to see why the Maze terrorists should be treated differently.
If we now regard the people in the Maze as 'prisoners of war' then control of the Maze might be better turned over to the Army.
Campbell Boyd, Scotland

What breadth of vision can those who have committed murder, the most extreme of crimes, contribute to a lasting and permanent peace process that will be based on compromise and compassion?

For the crime they have committed, they are liable to be punished, thus there is no reason why the prisoners should have this facility as well. When the committed the crime, they bought a ticket out of the political system and propaganda.
Sulove Bothra, India

I do not personally know a prisoner, but when they are released prisoners with become part of the general society again.
Patricia Thorpe, Australia

Surely the commitment to violence of the men inside the Maze prison rules them out of the political process. They are still represented by their various political parties so there shouldn't be any problem. It's like letting them out at Christmas... I know they may claim to have political motives - but many of these men were convicted for killing people, so why should they be let off so lightly?
John Karam, UK

As has been revealed, the prisoners have great control on events outside and inside the prison. They have already been instrumental in securing ceasefires. The Loyalist prisoners are upset at "concessions" given to other parties involved in the peace process. Concessions/compromises are necessary for peace, and the upset is a result of the balance having been grossly in favour of the Loyalist community in the past - a return to the previous status quo is what they desire.
Cormac McGettigan, UK

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