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The BBC's Kim Barnes
"This morning the final wave of prisoners releases got underway"
 real 56k

Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Mandelson
"I think it is right to bring these paramilitary prisoners back into the political process"
 real 28k

Sean O Callaghan ex-prisoner
"Some of them may well be attracted to the dissident groups either side"
 real 28k

Frankie Gallagher, Gae Lairn resettlement project
"Most of the prisoners I know actively work within the community"
 real 56k

Friday, 28 July, 2000, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Mixed reaction to prisoner releases

Shankill bomber Sean Kelly tastes freedom
The last mass release of paramilitary prisoners from Northern Ireland's jails has sparked a mixed reaction from politicians.

Eighty-six prisoners, including some of Northern Ireland's most notorious bombers and killers, have been freed under one of the most controversial provisions of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Ulster Unionist leader and First Minister David Trimble said it was a "difficult issue".

Mr Trimble, who is holding talks in Dublin, with the republic's prime minister Bertie Ahern, said he could understand the concerns of people who were victims of terrorism.

"That of course spreads the whole way across the community because this is not an issue for unionists or nationalists or Catholics or Protestants," he said.

"It's an issue for many people in northern ireland who have been touched by terrorism, affected by it and of course it's a difficulty when people are being released."

David Trimble
David Trimble: "Difficult issue"
He pointed out that the newly released prisoners had been freed on licence and were liable to be recalled if the terms of their licence were breached.

East Belfast MP Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionist Party accused Mr Trimble of "actively plotting with the enemies of Northern Ireland".

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Andrew MacKay said it was a "sad day" for the rule of law in the United Kingdom.

He accused UK Prime Minister Tony Blair of failing to keep his promise that releases would run parallel with the handing in of paramilitary weapons.

Mr MacKay said: "Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson have lost the leverage of prisoner releases. I hope they will not live to regret it.

"This government has shown itself once again to be pathetically weak on the rule of law, weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime. Today the terrorists might be smiling. The rest of us watch with anger and shame."

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See also:

28 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Arms find 'bound for NI'
28 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Paramilitary prisoners go free
27 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Paramilitary killers in profile
15 Feb 00 | Northern Ireland
Prison officers apply to leave service
28 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Mandelson defends 'bitter pill'
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