Dublin focuses on Clegg case

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The Independent Online
The Irish government is pressing for the early release of IRA prisoners in British jails, linked to the steps by the British government to free on licence Private Lee Clegg, the paratrooper imprisoned for life for murdering a joy rider in Ulster.

The Irish Cabinet yesterday postponed for "technical" reasons the release of six IRA prisoners, but it is expected to go ahead within days.

While the governments in both London and Dublin have rejected a general amnesty, the pressure from Dublin underlines the growing concern of the Irish at the refusal of the British government to meet Sinn Fein demands for a compromise over IRA prisoners.

There is anxiety in Dublin at the failure of the talks between British officials and Sinn Fein leaders, including Martin McGuinness, to make real progress towards substantive talks. British ministers are demanding progress on decomissioning of IRA weapons, while Sinn Fein is seeking release of IRA prisoners.

One Irish government source said: "We would like to see all individuals given equal treatment under the law. It is very important to see the confidence of the republic community in the North in the administration of justice is not undermined."

The source said it was important to consolidate support for the peace process. "Obviously there are many republicans and loyalists who will see in the Clegg case implications for the wider prison issue."

British ministers have denied any parallel between the case of Clegg and jailed IRA terrorists, but the Irish sources believe some compromise over IRA prisoners is inevitable if the peace process is to continue. They do not set a timescale for release, but believe the right signals should be sent.

That would outrage the Ulster Unionists, on whom John Major is depending for his majority at Westminster. A compromise could involve transferring IRA prisoners on the mainland to the more liberal prison regime in Ulster, where they would be nearer their families.

A change of attitude in favour of early release by the life sentence review board in Ulster is being sought by the Irish Government. When release is approved by ministers, prisoners must complete a nine-month pre-release programme.

The Governor of Wakefield Prison in West Yorkshire was under fire from the Northern Ireland Office yesterday for allowing journalists to interview Pte Clegg, who is still under the jurisdiction of the NIO.

The NIO said yesterday that, except in exceptional circumstances, prisoners in Ulster were not allowed to give interviews to the media.

A statement from the Northern Ireland Prison Service said that Clegg was the responsibility of Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, not the Home Office.

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