9 July 1998 Edition

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O Caoláin calls for amnesty as Bill is passed

by Michael Pierse

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin called for the implementation of the principles enshrined in the Good Friday agreement, in the face of opposition from TDs Proinsias De Rossa and Charlie Flanagan to the ``Release of Prisoners Bill'', which was discussed in Leinster House last Thursday.

O Caoláin asserted that the Bill was consistent with the Good Firday document, which had been accepted by the overwhelming majority of the Irish people: ``This Bill has been drafted with the clear remit of giving effect to the release of all those imprisoned in this state as a consequence of the conflict which has raged on and between these islands ove the past three decades. This is in line with the outcome of the recent multi-party talks at Stormont and the ratification by the electorate throughout this island of the agreement reached.''

``During my first year as TD I have visited gaols in every state where Irish republican prisoners are held... I have met with prisoners who have maintained their political integrity and personal dignity through the worst ravages of abusive regimes, some incarcerated now well in excess of 20 years.''

O Caoláin commended the prisoners and their families for the integral role they have played in progressing the peace process. ``Irish republican prisoners - as politcal activists and not as hostages - have played a key part in the peace process... I pay tribute to these prisoners and especially their families who have endured so much.''

The Cavan/Monaghan SF representative castigated the ``quite cynical and selective political and media manipulation of the views of a section of victims of the conflict... This has been done in order to resist the principle that in a conflict resolution situation the release of political prisoners is essential.''

Emphasising the impetus provided to usher forward an era of change, he said, ``to set victims against prisoners and their families, who have themselves suffered much, is to return to the old mindset of conflict.''

Although releases have to be accompanied by other changes, he said, ``among the number of outstanding issues that remain to be adressed include the need to end political extradition; the plight of prisoners in the US; uncertainties and fears of those and their families facing deportation from the US; regularisation of the status of prisoners already released here - those on licence.''

Shortly before the Bill was passed, O Caoláin said, ``a spirit that matches the hope and expectation of the Irish people is required here today - not a begrudging, minimalist and selective attitude towards this critical issue.''

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