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Friday, 8 December, 2000, 21:48 GMT
NIO to challenge Adair release
Johnny Adair
Johnny Adair was reimprisoned by order of Peter Mandelson
The Northern Ireland Office is to challenge a decision by the Sentence Review Commission to release convicted Ulster Freedom Fighters leader Johnny Adair Johnny Adair from prison.

On Friday the commission told Adair that a preliminary decision had been made that he should be released on licence.

The government has seven days to challenge the decision of the commission, which was set up as part of the Good Friday Agreement peace accord.

Adair was re-imprisoned after being freed under the terms of the 1998 peace accord.

The Shankill Road man was originally sentenced to 16 years imprisonment for directing terrorism in 1996.

A spokesman for Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, who originally ordered Adair to be re-imprisoned in August, said the decision was "surprising" and that he believed it would not stand up to "close legal scrutiny".

"We are confident that the original decision was the right one and we will be actively pursuing that decision with the commissioners," he said.

The Sentence Review Commission seem to be satisfied, so why not Peter Mandelson?

John White
UDP chairman
"The Secretary of State remains confident that his original decision to return Adair to custody was correct and served the best interests of the community. He will be following developments closely."

When Adair was re-arrested on 23 August, Mr Mandelson said the peace process could have been derailed if a feud between rival loyalist paramilitary groups had spread to Catholic areas.

Free since September last year under the terms of the agreement, Adair's licence was revoked when Mr Mandelson said he had evidence of the leading loyalist's involvement in heightening tensions in the feud.

The Northern Ireland secretary said in September that Adair would have to serve the remainder of his term.

The UDP's John White
The UDP's John White: "Adair should never have been re-imprisoned"
However, John White chairman of the Ulster Democratic Party which is linked to the UDA/UFF, said Adair should never have been re-imprisoned.

"I think the Secretary of State should do the honourable thing and let him go," he said.

"The Sentence Review Commission seem to be satisfied, so why not Peter Mandelson?

"You cannot hold every prisoner accountable for what is happening on the streets."

'Crazy decision'

But deputy leader of the Alliance Party Seamus Close said it would be "crazy" to release Adair under the current circumstances.

Seamus Close:
Seamus Close: "Releasing Adair will heighten tensions"
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster he said: "Two people have been shot dead, there is another man critically ill in hospital, and we are getting reports of petrol bombs and other attacks, all of which are of a sectarian-type nature.

"Does anyone believe that releasing Adair at this time would reduce tensions and induce calm? I honest don't think that to be the case."

The commission's announcement came as tensions are still high following the paramilitary-related murders of a Protestant taxi driver and a Catholic builder, and the shooting of another Catholic man outside a taxi depot.

Protestant taxi-driver Trevor Kell was shot dead on Hesketh Street in north Belfast on Tuesday night as he waited for a fare.

RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan said he believed republicans were responsible, an allegation which has been disputed by Sinn Fein who believe loyalists were responsible.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Catholic father of two, Gary Moore, was murdered as he worked on a building site on the mainly loyalist Monkstown estate on the outskirts of north Belfast.

Within minutes, a second Catholic man was shot and critically injured on the Oldpark Road in north Belfast. Paul Scullion, who is in his 20s, is in a critical but stable condition in the Mater Hospital.

Sir Ronnie said the indications were that these two shootings were carried out by loyalists.

The BBC's David Eades
"It has come as a very rude shock"
Robert McCartney, Leader of the UK Unionist party
"It demonstrates all the inherent defects in this concoction known as the peace process"
Ulster Democratic Party chairman John White
"Mr Adair worked tirelessly for the Belfast Agreement despite the media sensationalism"
See also:

10 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Adair 'to serve remainder of term'
23 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Loyalist Adair 'linked to drugs and guns'
08 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
Killings attempt to 're-ignite conflict'
23 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Loyalist Adair to challenge arrest
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