Amnesty planned for fugitive IRA terrorists

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The Independent Online

Legislation to grant amnesty to fugitive IRA terrorists who are still at large in the Republic is to be introduced in the Commons within weeks.

The amnesty will be on the agenda at a meeting in London tomorrow between Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, and Tony Blair, when they will discuss ways to strengthen the peace process.

Those on the wanted list include Liam Averill who escaped from the Maze prison dressed as a woman, and prime suspects wanted for the Enniskillen bombing which killed 11 people on Remembrance Day in 1987.

Lifting the threat of charges to allow fugitives to return to Northern Ireland will cause an outcry from the Conservatives, Unionists and some Labour MPs. Tony Blair admitted in the Commons last week that it was necessary to take "distasteful" decisions as part of the peace process.

Some Labour MPs have pressed for linkage between the amnesty and a Sinn Fein/IRA agreement to lift the ban on people exiled to mainland Britain for petty crime. However, ministerial sources said there would be no linkage: "We have made a series of separate steps in the peace process. This will be the same."

Quentin Davies, the Tory spokesman on Northern Ireland, warned the Government against giving amnesty to those on the run. "They would have no defence whatever against the charge of a complete sell-out," he said.

Desmond Browne, the junior Northern Ireland minister, said the amnesty is part of the Weston Park proposals which led to the IRA decommissioning some of its weapons.