365 royal pardons in N Ireland
More than 350 royal pardons have been issued in Northern Ireland over the past 35 years, the Government has disclosed.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has revealed that the Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM) was exercised in the province on at least 365 occasions between 1979 and 2002.
But the true total may well be higher as the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has been unable to find the records for the 10 year period from 1987 to 1997.
Mrs Villiers added that the records indicated that there were no cases of pardons being granted after 2002.
The details were revealed in a Commons written answer to the Labour MP Kate Hoey who said that she was "shocked" at the disclosures.
"I find it unbelievable that so many people in such a short space of time were given pardons," she said.
"I want to know who all these people are. I think that the public will want to know who these people are."
Miss Hoey, who said she would be pursuing the matter in the Commons, questioned why the pardons had apparently not been listed in either the Belfast Gazette or the London Gazette as would normally be the case.
She said that Mrs Villiers also needed to explain how records relating to such an important issue had been lost.
"There was clearly a cover-up. How can records not be found on something that the Queen has to sign off?" she said.
The NIO said that the issue related to the actions of the former Labour government for which current ministers did not have any responsibility.
"It is for ministers in the previous government to answer questions about their time in office and the decisions they took. There have been no RPMs since this Government came to power in May 2010," a spokeswoman said.
In her written question, Miss Hoey asked the Northern Ireland Secretary for a list of all the IRA members who had received a royal pardon.
In reply, Mrs Villiers stated: "Based on an assessment of the records held by my department, the Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM) was granted in Northern Ireland 365 times between 1979 and 2002, but this total does not include the period between 1987 and 1997 for which records cannot currently be found.
"The department does not hold information which specifically confirms whether individuals who received the RPM were members of prescribed groups."
The issue of amnesties issued in relation to Northern Ireland terrorism surfaced earlier this year when the case against a man charged with the 1982 Hyde Park bombing collapsed after it was disclosed that he had been sent a letter informing him that he was no longer wanted by the police.
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson - who threatened to resign until David Cameron agreed to a judge-led inquiry into the handling of so-called "on-the-runs" raised the issue of royal pardons granted to terrorists.
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland, which represents rank and file officers, asked: "How do you misplace or lose something as important as a record of a Royal Prerogative of Mercy? Were records accidentally destroyed or filed incorrectly?
"This is truly staggering. And, of course, it leaves a major gap when it comes to finding out who received the Royal pardon, and the nature of the crime they committed.
"Even without those records, the handing out of 365 pardons is excessive, and this Federation would like to know the criteria employed. Who qualified, and why, are but two of the questions we would like to direct to the NIO and the government.
"This Federation is on record as asking for details about the number of convicted individuals pardoned for crimes against police officers. The families of our murdered colleagues, and the wider community, have a right to know, and a drip feed of information either on this issue or on the secretive Administrative Scheme for 'on-the-runs' is not the way to proceed."