The favourites for release include Brendan MacFarlane and Joseph Doherty, both convicted IRA murderers, Patrick Magee, one of the Brighton bombers, and three of the Loyalist "Shankill Butchers" gang which killed 19 Catholics. McFarlane, who was jailed in 1975 for killing five Protestants in a pub bombing, was one of the leaders of the mass breakout from the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. He is a close friend of Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president.
Doherty escaped from a Belfast jail in 1981, two days before he was sentenced to life with a recommendation of 30 years for the murder of Captain Herbert Westmacott of the SAS. He was re-arrested in New York in 1983 and deported after a long legal battle.
Magee is serving eight life sentences for planting the bomb at the 1984 Conservative Party conference in Brighton which killed five people. He is one of eight IRA prisoners who have been transferred from England to Northern Ireland.
The Shankill Butchers who may be released are Robert "Basher" Bates, Sam McAllister, and William Moore. The rest of the 11-strong gang, which carried out some of Northern Ireland's worst sectarian murders have already been freed.
A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Prison Service said yesterday: "It has been stressed by ministers that Private Clegg's case should not be seen as political, it is purely judicial. There is no linkage to the release of other prisoners."
Despite this, the cases of a number of convicted terrorists went before the Northern Ireland Life Sentence Review Board at the same time as Clegg. The freeing of republican prisoners would ease the anger in the Roman Catholic community.
Terrorists account for 65 per cent of the 1,800 prisoners in Northern Ireland. Prisoners there may be released on licence by the review board or be granted extended home leave.
The system is less flexible for prisoners sentenced in England and Wales. Mandatory life sentence prisoners have their case first reviewed after 10 years.Reuse content