Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point
Front Page 
World 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
Forum 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 

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.


Your reaction

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.
B.M. McGarry, Wales


The thing that saddens me most is that after thirty years there is still so much ignorance about what was going on in the North of Ireland

Gerard, Ireland
The thing that saddens me most is that after thirty years there is still so much ignorance about what was going on in the North of Ireland. Having read through a good number of comments, it appears that the vast number of people who have contributed have little or real knowledge on this very important subject. I suppose I should not be surprised given that the average English person allows themselves to be influenced by tabloids like the SUN.
Gerard, Ireland

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.
Simon Atkinson, UK

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.
Christine, NI


What is needed is forgiveness and reconciliation to achieve permanent peace

John Scott, UK
When one reads the letters in this column, it is clear that revenge, bitterness and anger are still prevalent. What is needed is forgiveness and reconciliation to achieve permanent peace.
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.
Richard, UK

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.
Peter, UK


The vast majority of us here are tired and weary of hearing such uneducated pompous and self-opinionated nonsense!

Scott Coughlan, N. Ireland
Chris Brown is very naive in his belief that all of us in Northern Ireland are bigots and harbour terrorists. The vast majority of us here are tired and weary of hearing such uneducated pompous and self-opinionated nonsense! How does he suggest we stand up the terrorists and not be physically maimed?
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?
Mike Scott, England

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.
Brian, UK

How would you feel if you met the killer of your loved one walking down the street? I'm dreading that moment...
Carolyn, NI

We must not lose sight of the fact that these released prisoners is a purely political move, nothing at all to do with justice.
John Foster, England UK

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.
The people who deserve peace are not people like me who have only experienced the horror of a bomb blast through news bulletins but the victims themselves and the families of those victims. I don't think that any of those people will agree with this clause of the 'good' Friday agreement.
James, England


I find it OFFENSIVE to see these people walking free from jail to hero worship and welcome!

Julie, UK
DISGUSTING is the only word for this. They are not soldiers of war but criminals, convicted by a jury of peers in a court of law and passed sentence according to the law of the land. Tony Blair you should be ASHAMED of your actions - not one gun, bullet, knife has been handed over - nor will it be. I find it OFFENSIVE to see these people walking free from jail to hero worship and welcome! What has happened to my country under Tony Blair?
Julie, UK

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!
Stephen, UK


The release of these prisoner must take place to get the peace N Ireland deserves - even if it sticks in our throats

N A Murray, England
The release of these prisoner must take place to get the peace N Ireland deserves, even if it sticks in our throats that these thugs are out and free. I hope the Maze prison isn't just demolished. We can use this prison as an overspill from our over crowded prisons on the mainland
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 victims?
Rob, USA

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.
D. Tyler, England


I live and work in London and am thoroughly fed up with the confusion and havoc caused by security alerts and bomb threats

Alex Cull, London
I live and work in London and am thoroughly fed up with the confusion and havoc caused by security alerts and bomb threats, not to mention the times when our city has been actually devastated by terrorist bombs (Bishopsgate, etc). If the American lady who complains about the sentencing of terrorists had been on the receiving end of any of this, she would no doubt change her tune pretty quickly. How would she feel if the Oklahoma bombers were pardoned and released in this way? This release of terrorist prisoners will simply free them up for the next round of pointless murders. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that coming. My only hope is that we can somehow offload NI and leave the blighted place to its own devices. Three cheers for devolution!
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.
Tim, England

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 !
Nick, UK

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.
M. Owens, NY, USA


The IRA are terrorists and should be treated as such

S. Peach, USA
I lived in England for 10 years and in Ireland for 2 years. The IRA are terrorists and should be treated as such. They have proved that they will not abide by any "agreement" they make.
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.
Johnny McLoughlin, N. Ireland

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.
John Alkire, UK/ USA

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!
Adrian, Wales

Surely it is better to release these prisoners to secure peace than to have another 30 years of pointless murders in N.Ireland.
John, UK

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.
ML, UK


There have been approximately 15,000 republican prisoners over the last 30 years who have served an aggregate of 100,000 years

Mary Powner, USA
The only aspect of the Good Friday Agreement to have been implemented is the prisoner release program. Integrating Political Prisoners back into their communities is a vital step in the reconciliation process. There have been approximately 15,000 republican prisoners over the last 30 years who have served an aggregate of 100,000 years. Those few British army and RUC officers to have been sentenced for offences have served a grand total of 20 years. Astounding isn't it?
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.
David W, UK

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.
Neil, UK


At the moment people who have sentences for extreme crimes (terrorism, murder, rape, etc) should have to serve their full sentences before parole is even considered

Paul Charters, England
At the moment people who have sentences for extreme crimes (terrorism, murder, rape, etc) should have to serve their full sentences before parole is even considered! What has always amazed me is that people do not do any research into their own field of expertise. There is a prison in the USA that is circular in design so the convicts can always see each other, 24-7. They hate it and the rehabilitation rate is higher than any other prison in the world! Has anyone thought that this may be a good idea to use in other prisons?
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.
Justin, Ireland, living in Norway

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.
Michael, Ireland


If all diplomacy falls flat then we are truly back to square one

Tristan Abbott-Coates, UK/ USA
What have we achieved so far? There is an uneasy cease-fire which gets breached on a regular basis with bomb alerts and the IRA are still refusing to actually make any practical moves to hand over their weapons. If all diplomacy falls flat then we are truly back to square one with the murderers loose once again to start creating more anarchy than before. Only this time round they'll make sure they won't be caught so easily. They are not political prisoners, they murdered hundreds of innocents just to get their voice of hatred and "no surrender" heard.
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!
Sarah, UK

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.
Collin, Canada

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.
Jenny B, England

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.
Guy Chapman, UK


If the people of Northern Ireland do not embrace peace this time, then as far I'm concerned, they can be left to their own devices

Chris Brown, UK
This has to be their last chance. Most of us are fed up with these groups' pathetic attitudes. They call themselves Christians, which they clearly are not. If the people of Northern Ireland do not embrace peace this time, then as far I'm concerned, they can be left to their own devices. They've had ample opportunity to move themselves into the 21st century and they haven't, as yet, made any real moves to demonstrate that they all want to live in peace. And, frankly, the so-called innocent people caught up in the middle of all this are equally to blame. If they got rid of their hatred and stopped harbouring terrorists, things would improve enormously.
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.
David K, England

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.
Adrian Henning, Northern Ireland

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.
JK, Switzerland (Brit)

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?
Dan Peters, UK


It's about time the victims were remembered and not seen as just another statistic

Neill, Northern Ireland
These prisoners may have been fighting a "political" war, but each of them, both loyalist and republican, killed mostly civilians. There are such things as war criminals, who are prosecuted after the war is over (which I very much doubt it is), so releasing these thugs who do nothing but prey on their own communities, is one of the biggest disservices a British Government has done for the people of Northern Ireland. It's about time the victims were remembered and not seen as just another statistic.
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.
Chris Jess, Ireland

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.
Stephen, UK


It is very easy for people who are removed from the conflict to take the moral high ground as their lives aren't at stake

Julian, UK
It is very easy for people who are removed from the conflict to take the moral high ground as their lives aren't at stake. Those who live daily amongst terrorism ultimately have to ask which is preferable - doing unpalatable deals with men they despise, or watching the cycle of random revenge killings continue forever. The Good Friday Agreement is a reflection that most would rather have injustice and life, than justice and death.
Julian, UK

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.
Adam, England

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?
Louise, UK

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.
I. Sutherland, England

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?
Ed, England

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 Liggett, Germany


I found it almost unbelievable to see convicted murderers going free - what is the value of the lives they have taken?

Ken Beach, Germany UK
The end does not justify the means. I found it almost unbelievable to see convicted murderers going free - what is the value of the lives they have taken? Is this a precedent for the future, where the sentences of the courts can be overturned for political ends, even if the political ends are good ones, namely to bring about peace?
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.
Josh, UK

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?
B. Forey, Australia

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.
PS, UK

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.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/ UK


It is now up to those released to prove that they can exist without resort to arms

Andy Macliam, UK
Whilst the early release scheme may be unpalatable for many, it was vital in winning paramilitary support for the peace process. Without a new start in a fully democratic and representative state, there is no future for the people of the six counties of Ulster, as the old arguments are unwinnable. It is now up to those released to prove that they can exist without resort to arms and the "justification" of war for their violence.
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.
Martin, England

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.
Paul B, UK

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.
Peter, Scotland, living in Netherlands

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?
Paul, UK

Murder is murder and the punishment should have reflected that. Good job every murderer in jail is not released.
Paul Atkins, UK

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
See also:

24 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Opinion divided over killer's release
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Links to other Talking Point stories