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Dissident republican prisoners released to 'attend Easter Rising commemorations'

Published 06/04/2016

Masked Republicans pictured marching in Lurgan. Pic Pacemaker
Masked Republicans pictured marching in Lurgan. Pic Pacemaker
The National Republican Commemoration Committee parade in Coalisland
Adrian Cochrane-Watson

Six convicted dissident republicans were granted home leave to attend Easter Rising commemorations, including masked "show of strength" parades in Lurgan and Coalisland, according to an Assembly candidate.

Ulster Unionist candidate Adrian Cochrane-Watson, who was a South Antrim MLA in the last Assembly, said the prisoners boasted about their participation in demonstrations in Lurgan and Coalisland when they returned to prison.

He said: “I was shocked to learn that six convicted terrorists were allowed out over Easter and I have no doubt that they enjoyed the Easter rising celebrations. I have met with Prison Service staff who left me in no doubt about their revulsion that these six individuals were allowed out of Roe House and Foyle House.

"On their return to Maghaberry these terrorist thugs boasted about their participation in the illegal demonstrations in Lurgan and Coalisland."

Masked men paraded through the streets of Lurgan, Coalisland and Londonderry during the Easter weekend as commemorations to remember the centenary of the Easter Rising took place across the island of Ireland.

In one of the most sinister displays a threat from the Continuity IRA against members of the security forces was read out by masked men in Lurgan.

Following the parades, unionists, including the First Minister, criticised police for not taking any preventative measures to stop the paramilitary displays.

Arlene Foster said:  "I want to see these people behind bars. No place for masked men in Northern Ireland."

Read more: DUP's Arlene Foster wants masked dissident republicans at Easter Rising marches behind bars

Mr Cochrane-Watson said: “These are the same convicted terrorists who laughed and joked in the face of prison officers at the recent murder of their colleague in East Belfast. They are not conforming to the prison regime and therefore benefits such as weekend home leave - particularly to celebrate dissident republican events - should have been removed.  It is simply an insult to the entire community.

 “A number of questions arise. Who authorised this leave? What limitations were placed on activities which prisoners could or could not involve themselves in? What punishments are available to prison authorities and what lessons have been learned to prevent a repetition?

“I will be contacting the Justice Minister David Ford and the prison authorities seeking answers as a matter of urgency.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said: “Prisoners coming to the end of their sentences can apply for periods of pre-release home leave.  With the exception of the pre-planned Christmas scheme, these periods of home leave can take place at any time throughout the year.”

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