|low graphics version | feedback | help|
|You are in: Talking Point|
Friday, 4 August, 2000, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Should the prisoners have stayed in jail?
The early release scheme for prisoners has been one of the most criticised aspects of the Good Friday Agreement which paved the way for the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.
By Friday, a total of 430 loyalist and republican paramilitaries will have been released, leaving just a handful of prisoners in the Maze, one of Europe's most secure prisons.
The political representatives of the prisoners argue that without their support, it would have been difficult to overcome the deadlock in the peace process. But for many relatives of their victims the release of those who killed their loved ones has been extremely hard, if not impossible to accept.
Do you think the release of some of those blamed for Northern Ireland's darkest days is too high a price to pay for a peaceful future? Should the prisoners have stayed in jail?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I will be very interested to see what the Government's excuse will be when
one or more of the killers who were released last week kills again.
Let's face facts. If the British Government had refused to accept the Republicans and Loyalists party positions on prisoners there would be no peace in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future. The choice is yours.
I am aggrieved by some of the comments from your readers. I grew up through the Troubles and while it had the potential to create a province filled with bitter and twisted people; instead the people have strived for normality and on the whole they have managed to accomplish their aim. Our lives do not differ from the people in the rest of the UK, and ironically, the streets of NI are probably among the safest. To suggest that the people of NI are filled with hatred and harbour terrorists is ludicrous and I take personal offence to that comment. Unfortunately, the actions of one violent man can achieve more publicity and evoke more emotion than the continuing good deeds of 10,000 people.
John Scott, UK
One of the most disgusting aspects of the release programme is the double standard being applied by the Irish Government. The men jailed for the murder of an Irish policeman are to stay in jail while hundreds of prisoners jailed for killing both Protestants and Catholics in NI are released. What Mr Ahern is basically saying is that the life of Guarda McCabe is worth more than that of a member of the RUC, British Army or simply anyone in NI from any side of the conflict. None of these people should have been released.
Maybe with the release of all terrorist prisoners' there will be a head to head confrontation in Ireland which seems the only option left
judging by the fanatics we see on our TV screens from both denominations.
Scott Coughlan, N. Ireland
As an ex soldier who served in NI I can't say I am surprised. I wonder if any national newspapers will clamber to feed us their details or will they be treated as heroes?
The premature release of those who carried out pre-meditated mass murder is the best argument for the return of the death penalty that I have seen for a long time.
How would you feel if you met the killer of your loved one walking down the street? I'm dreading that moment...
We must not lose sight of the fact that these released prisoners is a purely political move, nothing at all to do with justice.
I don't think there is a single person out there who would not agree that peace in Northern Ireland is essential but I can not see how releasing over 350 of this century's most notorious bombers and killers justifies it.
I wonder if the odious Soho Bomber Copeland will be able to claim that his crimes were "politically motivated" and thereby claim that he should be released early as a "political prisoner", or is it the case that only certain types of political "principles" admit of clemency? Mmmm... and there I was thinking justice was supposed to be impartial!
N A Murray, England
No matter how you look at it, these people should be
rotting in jail forever. Peace in Ireland should be enjoyed
by those who worked for it in a non-
violent manner. These people killed mercilessly and
are now shown the mercy they so sickeningly denied their
The early release of killers and terrorists sends out the wrong message to the rest of the law abiding community. It makes a mockery of the whole process of law
those killers should not be rewarded for their crimes how can you have zero tolerance on motoring offences
and leniency for murderers and killers who have killed and maimed indiscriminately.
Alex Cull, London
I believe that we need to balance practicalities with ideals. Not many bombs seem to be being planted now.
The longer peace reigns in Northern Ireland the more difficult it will be for unionist and republican terrorists to revert to their killing.
If we are to find peace in Ireland then we must, on both sides, give and take. Yes, some should be released but, if they offend again then it is LIFE !
Letting admitted murderers out of jail after serving short sentences is wrong, no matter how you look it. A lasting peace in Ireland should be enjoyed by those, and only those, who resisted all efforts to engage in a violent solution to the problems.
S. Peach, USA
If Chris Brown really thinks that we are all to blame in Northern Ireland, then he has never been here. Over 95% of us have no interest in the political side of the Troubles. However, we do not want prisoners released early either. It is very easy to condemn us all, but in reality Northern Ireland is as "peaceful" as anywhere else in the world today.
Tony Blair and the Labour Party in general are the best leaders the IRA have ever had. Good Friday Agreement, the IRA has gotten everything they want while giving up nothing.
What about all the victims murdered by these monsters? They will never get a second chance of life, so why should these terrorists (both Loyalist or Republican) be allowed to walk among the free? It's all appeasement, life means life! Better yet, why not hang them all!
Surely it is better to release these prisoners to secure peace than to have another 30 years of pointless murders in N.Ireland.
If they class themselves as soldiers I hope that they are going to stand in front of the Hague for War Crimes against human rights/breaking of the Geneva Convention. If they are POW's, have the paramilitaries declared that the war is over? No because if they did they wouldn't have anything to negotiate with as they would have to 'surrender' their arms.
Mary Powner, USA
Absolutely! Just because they murder for a 'cause' doesn't mean they are exempt from justice. They are not prisoners of war at all, there is no state of war that exists between Ireland and the UK. If that were the case, all known terrorists could've just been rounded up. They were all tried under criminal law for murder and conspiracy to cause explosions, therefore their release should not in ANY WAY be linked with any political decisions to do so. We are making a big mistake.
I would have a lot more sympathy with the point of view which says that criminals should serve full sentences if this were also applied to members of the RUC, British Army and the Northern Irish establishment. Since 1916, these bodies have been just as responsible for murder, intimidation, ethnic cleansing, abuse of power and gerrymandering as any terrorist organisation; the irony is that this is state-sponsored. Where people are fighting an unjust state, they must be considered political prisoners, much as they have been in South Africa.
Paul Charters, England
What if the people who have written in were in Asia, Middle East or Africa ? I think because they are white western Europeans, nobody can see why exactly this has all been happening over the past years.
Hatred is bred into these people, and it has to be treated. Concessions on both sides with aim to permanent cease-fire can be plausible. However, paranoia creeps in and causes both sides to be worried about who is getting more.
I think the sad truth is that sometimes we have to make decisions which go against our instincts and principles in order to get the desired end result. It is called sacrifice, I don't know if I agree with the releases... it feels wrong, but I know that it is being done in order to get a prize more valuable than simple justice, that is an end to the conflict, bigotry and violence. Sometimes we just have to make hard decisions for the common good.
I know that should the conflict resume, they should perhaps have to return to their sentences.
It is a horrible issue for any government or person to ever have to deal with.
I hope the beneficiaries will be future generations in these isles.
Tristan Abbott-Coates, UK/ USA
I believe that all convicted criminals should serve their full sentence. However, in the name of peace sometimes we have to concede to do things that we normally should not do. Not everyone should have been released. Those convicted of serial killings both with the loyalist groups and outside of them should never be released and ought to serve their full sentence. For the safety of our country, convicted criminals should be locked up and stay locked up until they have the decency to realise what their act has done to the families of the victim!
Sounds very much like what goes on over here as well. Our murderers and rapists, when they get any time at all, spend two thirds of it in country clubs. They live in cottages, on the golf course. They ride horses, play rounds of golf, drink beer in their kitchens and there are no fences or walls. They watch big screen satellite TV and play billiards in the communal centres. They also still walk away and re-offend. They live better than nearly half our population and still escape. I guess the conjugal cottages aren't good enough.
Why is it that "life" never means "life" anymore? It just projects an image to potential murderers, that if they do get caught, they won't spend the rest of their life in jail. Today's society is becoming more and more dangerous to live in, not only for us, but future generations.
This issue is so emotive that a rational analysis may well be impossible but in the end, the justification for keeping people in prison is at least partly to avoid re-offending, and if there is peace the danger of that happening should be negligible. On the other hand I really think that prisoner releases should have been put on hold some months ago to be resumed when the so-called punishment beatings are stopped. Either Northern Ireland is going to live under the rule of law, or it isn't. If it is then the beatings must stop and the gunmen can return home.
Chris Brown, UK
Is it not nauseatingly ironic that in the same week that the country is up in arms about a child killer, Blair should release mass-murderers (whose victims include innocent children) on to the streets of Northern Ireland?
No wonder there is a crisis in law and order in this country - the lunatics have most definitely taken over the asylum.
It amazes me that we hear so much complaining about these prisoner releases from those who voted "Yes" and who advocated a "Yes" vote for the Agreement to the people of Northern Ireland.
I realised that these releases would take place despite the terrorist groups not decommissioning, and this is one of the several reasons why I voted "No". My conscience is clear.
PLEASE, let us not confuse cowardly acts of extreme and indiscriminate violence, often against innocent civilians, with the acts of a soldier. At the end of a military campaign both sides exchange prisoners. However, during a war a soldier disguised as a civilian may be shot. If we are going to follow the rules, let's do it right. Let's see how many of these people have the courage to put on a uniform and fight a REAL war.
What's the take-home lesson? You can do any crime you want as long as you say "it's political" then you won't get a long sentence. Well, it's what our own politicians have been getting away with for years so what do you expect?
Neill, Northern Ireland
In my experience the vast majority of people getting mixed up in paramilitaries have little idea of their history or what they are supposed to be fighting for. Most involved are brought up in economically deprived areas and often get into the paramilitaries at a young age due to peer pressure.
It's heartening to see the majority of comments on this page are against this Faustian programme of prisoner releases. I hope this is one of the issues that Mr Blair will be made to pay for, come election time and I only wish it was possible to believe the Conservatives would have shown more backbone than Labour. This whole sad period reminds me of Alan Clark's observation of the Foreign Office, that it now exists solely to buy off foreign disapproval by dipping into the till marked British interests.
As yet, no one has explained to me how Blair can subvert the judicial system, and choose to free properly convicted murderers. Tony Martin defends himself and ends up doing life, while the guy who bombed Canary Wharf is now a free man! Freeing killers who for the most part glory in their crimes is a gross insult to their victims. The Government has totally capitulated to the IRA.
It must be very difficult for families who have lost people to see criminals being released. Where is the justice? Regardless of any disagreements, to go ahead and kill is fundamentally wrong. While attempts are made to haul 80-year-old war criminals before courts, how can someone who has killed only a few years ago be let off?
Prisoners should stay in jail. The sentence was give for a CRIME. Life should mean life. The victims of the crimes have a sentence for life.
These people are not "political prisoners" as many like to portray them, they are convicted terrorists. They should serve their sentences just as any other criminals should. Other murderers do not get out early, why should these?
The release proves that those killed and their families are irrelevant to the politicians as they were to their murderers. In other words, the politicians are on the same rock bottom level as the murderers.
Ken Beach, Germany
The IRA was fighting a war to liberate Irish territory occupied by the English for generations, as did many ex-colonial nations. As with any war, when the fighting stops, the prisoners of war return home to their loved ones to live a normal and productive life.
They were responsible for the worst years Northern Ireland has ever seen, yet we let these criminal brutes out of prison? Where is the logic in this?
The Government needed the paramilitaries' support, so they gave them what they wanted. The Government effectively bought out the terrorists and there is no ethical or moral reason to release them from prison.
The first question to ask in our minds is whether these people are criminals or political prisoners. As we live in a democracy, blowing people up with bombs, or blowing them away with a bullet, classifies them in my mind as nothing more than common criminals.
But then, there is some debate as to whether democracy in NI is sufficiently representative - should it be for the whole of Ireland or split between north and south?
For the sake of moving forward, these people must make public assurances that they have rejected violence as a means to accomplish their ends; they should be paroled, not "freed"; and their whereabouts must be known by the authorities at all times. Although, I'm still not comfortable with releasing these people (of either side of the divide), we have to compromise here - we have no choice, however distasteful.
Andy Macliam, UK
Regardless of any beliefs or causes murder, is still murder. These murderers should stay locked up for the duration of their sentence.
Of course, they should stay in jail. They are still murderers, many of them mass murderers. They are not prisoners of war who would be released at the end of hostilities. None of them should be let out early. This is just a victory for the IRA, to whom New Labour has capitulated.
Yes, they should've been kept inside, but with a clear indication they were to be released as soon as a stable peace is reached.
The release of evil killers, people who have killed and maimed not just soldiers but also innocent men, women and young children is disgusting. A search for peace is one thing but this amounts to nothing more than surrendering to the thugs. The Republicans and the Loyalists (the very idea that they are killing to be "Loyal" is repulsive) are both despicable fuelled by their perpetual hatred. They should stay behind bars for life for their brutality. Blair should hang his head in shame. Will he take the blame when one of these mad men inevitably commits another atrocity?
Murder is murder and the punishment should have reflected that. Good job every murderer in jail is not released.
24 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Opinion divided over killer's release
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Other Talking Points:
Links to other Talking Point stories
|^^ Back to top
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education | Entertainment | Talking Point | In Depth | AudioVideo
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy