Straw agrees transfer of IRA prisoners

 

IN A CLEAR confidence-building measure, the British Home Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, has agreed the transfer of two IRA prisoners to the North to be nearer their families.

The two men are Danny McNamee, who was jailed for 25 years after being convicted for the IRA Hyde Park bombing, and Liam McCotter, who is serving 17 years for conspiring to cause explosions. An English Prison Office spokesman said the two men would be transferred to Maghaberry prison, Co Antrim, as soon as possible but only on a temporary basis.

"The initial transfer period will not exceed six months. Whilst they are temporarily transferred to Northern Ireland they remain in the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom and the British Home Secretary. Their release dates will not be effected by this move," he added.

Mr Straw is also considering transferring another three IRA prisoners to Portlaoise jail. It is understood the three men - Denis Kinsella, from Dublin, who is serving 25 years for the IRA bomb attack on Warrington gasworks; Vincent Wood, from Co Mayo, who was jailed for 17 years after being convicted of storing 35lb of Semtex for the IRA, and Patrick Hayes, from London, who was jailed for 20 years for the IRA bomb attack on Harrods - requested the transfers in 1995.

However, the prisons spokesman stressed that each case is considered individually and there was no indication as to when an announcement would be made.

The Sinn Fein MP for Mid Ulster, Mr Martin McGuinness, welcomed the imminent transfer of the IRA prisoners. He said it was particular welcome news for their families, friends and supporters.

"I hope that these transfers signal the beginning of more humane considerations by the British authorities towards Irish political prisoners. Those who have campaigned on their behalf must be congratulated and should continue their efforts to have all Irish prisoners repatriated pending their eventual release."

Last week, Mr McGuinness stressed the importance of Irish prisoners in building confidence in the peace process. He suggested the British government's treatment of them was one of the necessary indications to persuade the IRA to call another ceasefire.

The SDLP justice spokesman, Mr Seamus Mallon, welcomed the transfer of the two prisoners. The move was a clear indication that the Northern Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, and the Home Secretary were meeting assurances they had given him before the election that the transfer of prisoners would be a priority for the new British government. "This is something which is long overdue and which will help substantially the families of the prisoners," Mr Mallon said.

It is expected that McNamee, who protests his innocence, and McCotter, who is from Andersonstown, will be moved within days.

The men's solicitor, Ms Gareth Peirce, welcomed the news but she said it also proved how "nonsensical, illogical and contradictory" the British Home office's attitude was, because officials had recently upheld McNamee's high-risk categorisation.

"They have had to wait a long time for this news. Nobody who has been transferred temporarily has ever been brought back, they just refuse to state that it is permanent because it is a way of depriving people of their normal prison entitlements like home leave," she added.

Although both men were involved in an IRA break-out from Whitemoor jail, their trial for that incident was aborted following prejudicial media coverage.

Senior sources in Dublin said last night the Government was not aware of the transfers but would not be surprised by them.