Brighton bomber is freed today

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The Independent Online
THE IMMINENT release from prison of the IRA Brighton bomber Patrick Magee is a measure of the enormous change in relations between the British government and the republican movement in 15 years.

Belfast-born Magee, to be freed from the Maze prison today, was sentenced to eight life terms for his attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher, members of her cabinet and other Tory grandees during the 1984 Tory party conference. The bomb he left in Room 629 of the Grand Hotel killed five people associated with the Conservative party, including Sir Anthony Berry, and left Lord Tebbit's wife maimed.

Fifteen years on, representatives of the republican movement, far from attempting to kill the Prime Minister Tony Blair, will this week sit down with him in Belfast. Rather than pressing him for a British withdrawal, they will be seeking entry into a new Northern Ireland government.

Tony Blair has met the republican leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness many times, establishing a relationship which appears cordial and business- like.

Surprisingly, for such an anti-British movement, the republicans appear to place a fair amount of trust in Mr Blair and his Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam.

Patrick Magee was convicted largely on forensic examination of a hotel registration card which produced a palm print and a fingerprint, indicating he had checked into the hotel and left the bomb behind a panel in a bathroom weeks before explosion.

The judge who sentenced him said: "You intended to wipe out a large part of the government and very nearly did." He is being released after serving 14 years, most of it in jails in England. Behind bars he was an open supporter of the peace process.

He is benefiting from the early release provisions of last year's Good Friday agreement, which indicated that prisoners whose parent organisations observed ceasefires could expect to be freed by the summer of the year 2000.

More than half of paramilitary prisoners have since been released, with Magee the 277th freed under the scheme.

The releases have continued despite opposition from the Conservative party in the Commons and from other elements such as the Rev Ian Paisley. Republican and loyalist inmates have benefited from the release scheme.

Contacts among the political parties continued in Belfast and Dublin yesterday in preparation for the expected arrival of Mr Blair and the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Belfast on Thursday. The two Prime Ministers are to make a push for agreement in the run-up to the 30 June deadline they have set for progress. Dr Mowlam yesterday appealed to all sides for "one last enormous effort" to find agreement.

Detectives investigating the Omagh bombing last night arrested two women, bringing to 13 the number being questioned. The pair, detained inDundalk, Co Louth, yesterday afternoon were partners of two men already being interrogated by police about the explosion in Co Tyrone last August which killed 29 people.