State Papers

John Hume concerned by release of republican prisoners from Portlaoise after IRA ceasefire

SDLP leader John Hume was surprised by prisoner releases in the Republic, according to a declassified memo
Dr Éamon Phoenix

SDLP leader John Hume was surprised by the Irish government's decision to release several IRA prisoners from Portlaoise prison on licence following the paramilitary group's first ceasefire.

Of the nine prisoners released in late 1994, seven had been sentenced for firearms and explosive offences and two to life imprisonment.

None of the men were wanted for crimes committed in Northern Ireland or Britain.

In a note to Secretary of State Sir Patrick Mayhew, an NIO official said Mr Hume had expressed surprise at the move.

Mr Hume told the head of the NIO, Sir John Chilcot, that he was concerned by the speed of the decision and it was his opinion that prisoner releases "were all things that needed to be settled down the road".

The Ulster Unionists and the DUP criticised the decision. DUP spokesman Sammy Wilson said the move showed "the peace process was a surrender process", the memo read.

In a separate note to the NIO, the British Ambassador in Dublin David Blatherwick reported the list of released prisoners did not include Thomas McMahon (sentenced for the murder of Lord Mountbatten in 1979) or Nessan Quinlivan and Pearse McAuley (who had shot a civilian in their escape from Brixton Prison in 1991).

He reported that Presbyterian minister and loyalist intermediary Rev Roy Magee and PUP leader David Ervine said the British government should consider the phased release of all prisoners on licence.

Mr Ervine said prisoner releases in the north "would cement the peace though he acknowledged it would face mammoth emotional difficulties".

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