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IRA prisoner Padraic Wilson
Praise for Sinn Fein leadership and commitment
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Friday, 17 December, 1999, 07:39 GMT
IRA man's tribute to politicians

Padraic Wilson: IRA supporter of peace process Padraic Wilson: IRA supporter of peace process

A senior IRA prisoner has praised the political efforts of Sinn Fein, on his early release.

Padraic Wilson, who has been the IRA's commanding officer in the high security Maze Prison, endorsed the "leadership and commitment" shown by Sinn Fein in the current peace process, when he walked free on Thursday morning.

He said: "It has been a very important period for us and a very interesting period.

"Nothing that has happened would have been possible without the leadership and commitment of our comrades in Sinn Fein and the republican structures, and we are very thankful for that.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly (right): Praise for Wilson
"The very fact that I am here today a considerable number of years before the British government and others wanted me to be out is down to the working efforts of our comrades in the republican movement."

Wilson, 42, from west Belfast, was released after serving eight years of a 24-year sentence for possessing explosives and conspiracy to murder.

He has become the 308th paramilitary prisoner freed on parole under the Good Friday Agreement early prisoner release scheme.

Wilson was met by his children and Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly, who said his Maze leadership had been well appreciated.

He said: "I'd like to welcome him personally as a long term friend and a comrade and also to say his leadership, (and he's been leader of the republican prisoners for some considerable time in the jail now), has been well appreciated both inside the jail and outside it.

"He has been a good leader in good times and bad."

The Search for Peace
More related to this story
Link to Gerry Adams
Link to Decommissioning
Link to IRA
Link to Good Friday Agreement
Link to Republican splinter threat
Wilson had been one of three senior republicans tipped to act as an IRA intermediary with the International Commission on Decommissioning.

He played a key role in convincing fellow inmates that they should throw their weight behind the political republicanism advocated by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

But Gerry Kelly indicated that Mr Wilson may not immediately become re-involved with the peace process.

Brian Keenan Brian Keenan: Possible IRA intermediary
Mr Kelly said: "I hope he is going to his family to have some time off, hopefully a considerable time off, before he takes up a position in the peace process again, something which he has shown great leadership in the last few years."

Another indication that Wilson would not be the IRA go-between with Canadian General John de Chastelain's commission, is the fact that an intermediary has already met the body, while the Northern Ireland Office insisted Wilson had not been let out of the Maze.

The IRA did not name its go-between for "security reasons" unlike the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Freedom Fighters.

But Wilson has been one of three figures who has been surrounded by speculation, because he is highly respected in republican circles and would also be a favoured choice for unionists.

In May last year he was given temporary parole to attend a special meeting of Sinn Fein's ruling council in Dublin to discuss the ratification of the Belfast Agreement.

The other figures named as possible intermediaries are Brian Keenan and Joe Cahill.

A suspected IRA Army Council member, Keenan was jailed for 18 years in 1980 for conspiring to cause explosions on the British mainland in the 1970s.

Joe Cahill Cahill: Veteran republican
Cahill, 79, is seen as one of the republican movement's living legends, after escaping the hangman's noose at the eleventh hour in 1942 for shooting a policeman.

Following his release from a commuted prison sentence he was a founding member of the Provisional IRA and was convicted in 1973 of attempting to import arms from Libya.

IRA arms decommissioning is a still central issue in the peace process following the formation of Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive two weeks ago.

First Minister of the Assembly and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has warned that this party will bring down the executive if decommissioning has not started by February.

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Decommissioning: The paramilitary figures
10 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
General wants arms timetable
09 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
UFF meets arms body
08 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Loyalist arms intermediaries
10 Dec 99 |  Northern Ireland
Text of decommissioning body's report
19 Nov 99 |  Northern Ireland
UDP meets de Chastelain
21 Oct 99 |  Northern Ireland
Arms deadline will be met - de Chastelain

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