Cardinal calls for action over prisoners

The peace process: Major condemns the orchestrated violence in Northern Ireland in wake of 'judicial' decision to release Clegg
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The Independent Online

The leader of the Catholic church in Northern Ireland, Cardinal Cahal Daly, yesterday criticised as "crass insensitivity" the release of Private Lee Clegg. He made his attack as violence in nationalist areas of the province subsided.

Cardinal Daly described the release of Clegg as "a grave blunder" which ran roughshod over the law and called on the Government to give equal treatment to about 900 people jailed in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

"The release of Clegg was a grave blunder both in timing and substance," he said. "There must now be urgent action in the case of other prisoners who had the experience of being caught up at a young age in troubles which they did not have any control over."

The issue was raised in the House of Commons by Dr Joe Hendron, Social Democratic and Labour Party MP for West Belfast, who said: "The Northern Ireland Office has sacrificed the stability of the peace process for short- term political gain. My constituents in west Belfast justifiably believe that there is one law for soldiers and another law for Irish prisoners."

John Major replied that the decision to release Clegg had been a "judicial matter" which had been decided by Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on its merits.

He added: "I must say to the House and the country as a whole, it is patently absurd to equate Private Clegg's case with deliberate acts of murder by paramilitaries."

The Prime Minister continued: "There was a very high degree of orchestration in yesterday's violent events in Northern Ireland. Prominent members of Sinn Fein were present at a number of those. It is far from the only violent demonstration organised by Sinn Fein in recent months."

There was some trouble in Northern Ireland yesterday. Patients were evacuated from a hospital in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, after a bus containing a suspect dustbin inside was abandoned outside, but bomb disposal experts discovered that it was a hoax. In Belfast, a bread van was hijacked and set alight, and attempts were made to hijack a petrol tanker on the Springfield Road in west Belfast.

But the incidents were isolated compared to the violence in the province on Monday. The Royal Ulster Constabulary said 32 people were arrested in north and west Belfast as a result of 150 hijackings and petrol bombings during almost 20 hours of violence. Damage is estimated at pounds 4m.

Clegg's family said yesterday that he had matured during the four years he spent behind bars. His mother, Wynne Johnson, said: "It was very upsetting to learn people were shouting against Lee coming out and calling for their prisoners to be out. It was also distressing that the rioting took place on the very day of his release."

Asked if she could understand how the nationalist communities felt, she said: "To some extent, yes. They feel as if they are getting a raw deal. But campaigns have been going on for quite a number of years for the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. It's the same as we were doing for Lee. We feel just the same as they do."