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Breach of trust on early prisoner release scheme

IT is becoming all too clear that a growing number of those released under the terms of the Belfast Agreement are being put back in prison.

This is happening on both sides of the divide and one wonders if trying to buy, or make, peace in this way was ever going to work.

Some individuals, in spite of spending time in jail, are more than happy to give up that freedom and continue to commit serious crimes.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that they could be regarded as habitual criminals, notwithstanding their involvement in the Troubles.

The Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, has stated that the Government will have no hesitation in returning released prisoners to prison if they re-offend, or become a threat to the public. Ms Villiers said: "The Government will use all the powers at its disposal under the law to counter any residual terror threat."

It is clear that ex-paramilitaries are viewed as residual terror threats and, it would appear, rightly so.

Prison does, indeed, keep the threats away from the public, but as a reform device, it fails so often – especially when sentences are short-term.

The Belfast Agreement did oil the wheels of negotiation, by giving early prisoner releases to those who committed serious acts.

But there appears to be a breach of trust in that regard – on both sides.

MAURICE FITZGERALD

By e-mail

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