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1 April 1999 Edition

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Republican prisoners concerned about release halt

There is growing concern among the republican prisoners in Portlaoise prison that the Dublin government has stopped prisoner releases.

The Officer Commanding the POWs in Portlaoise, Gerry Hanratty, says: ``While there may be some truth in the assertion that the British government is exerting pressure on the Dublin government to halt the release of those prisoners previously held in English jails who were subsequently repatriated to Portlaoise prison, that fact remains that the power to release all IRA prisoners in the 26 counties remains solely with the Dublin government''.

Gerry added: ``There is no clause within the European convention on the repatriation and transfer of prisoners which requires any prior consent from the British government before the Irish authorities release any repatriated prisoner. It must be remembered also that the Good Friday Agreement put in place mechanisms that enable the Irish government to immediately release all twenty five remaining IRA prisoners in Portlaoise prison, as the 25 POWs fulfill all the criteria as laid down by the Good Friday Agreement.''

Gerry also points out that the reluctance of the Dublin government to furnish all political prisoners with revised release dates is a cause for further concern as, he says, ``The Dublin government, in signing the Good Friday Agreement, is legally obliged to ``complete a review process within a fixed time frame and set prospective release dates for all qualifying prisoners.''

Despite repeated requests to the Justice Department through the governor of Portlaoise prison for the revised release dates, no revised dates have been forthcoming. On 8 March 1999, the governor of Portlaoise prison gave Gerry Hanratty a list of release dates for all POWs. To Hanratty's amazement, the release dates are the same dates each political prisoner received upon conviction, which totally disregards the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Gerry emphasises that, ``the primary motivation of republican prisoners is not to obtain release from prison, but rather a desire to see an end to British interference in the internal affairs of the Irish nation, the end of partition and the establishment of a 32-county democratic socialist republic''.

The POWs are obviously annoyed at the misreading of their motivation by the Dublin government. Describing these feelings, Hanratty says: ``It would be remiss of us if we failed to point out to those who may be labouring under any other illusion, that republicans would not countenance, let alone concede, to prisoners being swapped in some quid pro quo arrangement for weapons. It would be a gross misunderstanding of the republican psyche to presume prisoners would allow themselves to be used as bargaining chips.''

These concerns are coupled with the fact that the Dublin government now has the dubious distinction of holding the longest serving political prisoners of the conflict, men who are now into their 24th year of incarceration. Furthermore, despite earlier assurances from the government to be ``imaginative and generous'' in releasing prisoners in their jurisdiction it is quite clear that prisoner releases in the 26 counties have ground to a halt.

Prisoners express these concerns because, as Hanratty points out, ``It is common knowledge that prisoners have played their part in galvanising support for the republican leadership's attempts at achieving a just and durable peace settlement. It is not mere hollow rhetoric to say halting prisoner releases is very counter-productive because by definition halting is the antithesis of movement and, as we all know, movement is not only desirous but vital for ensuring the continuing of confidence and stability.''

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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