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Northern Ireland calls for extension of new law ending terrorist early release increase

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Justice Minister Naomi Long

Justice Minister Naomi Long

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Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie

Justice Minister Naomi Long

Fresh calls have been made for new legislation ending the early release of people convicted of terror offences to be extended to Northern Ireland.

The Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill was introduced at Westminster this week.

Ministers moved to bring in the laws urgently after the Streatham terror attack and aim to pass the legislation before the next terrorist is due to be released from prison on February 28, with more scheduled in March.

The plans, which will affect around 50 prisoners, aim to make sure terrorist offenders serve two-thirds of their sentence before they are considered eligible for release, rather than the current halfway mark.

Before being freed they would need to be reviewed by a panel of specialist judges and psychiatrists at the Parole Board.

The legislation is aiming to get royal assent on February 27 and the Government will consider further legislative changes if necessary.

Kenny Donaldson, spokesman for Innocent Victims United, says the legislation must cover the whole of the UK, and to treat Northern Ireland as a place apart "would amount to a two-tier value placement on the basic security and safety of citizens".

"Those convicted of terrorist offences (of whatever hue) must understand that the UK is not a soft touch. We must move towards a criminal justice system which is victim- and citizen-centred and which ceases to be perpetrator- and criminal-concerned.

"This said, we support genuine rehabilitation of offenders, particularly those who have been radicalised by extremist ideology. Merely locking them up will not secure our country and our people because inevitably once their release comes they have potential to create further harm.

"We must achieve better outcomes around deradicalising such individuals."

Ulster Unionist Party justice spokesperson and Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie has called on the Government to rethink its policy.

He said: "I simply cannot accept the idea that the Terrorist Offenders Bill should not apply in Northern Ireland.

"Quite simply, a terrorist attack in Belfast - or anywhere else in Northern Ireland - should be treated as seriously as a terrorist attack in Manchester or London.

"This part of the United Kingdom is not immune to global terrorist attack; in fact, we may find ourselves, being the frontier to the European Union, as the soft underbelly of the United Kingdom.

"The same penalties should be available UK-wide for those who seek to attack our people and our way of life, in any part of our country."

"Terrorism is no less dangerous in Northern Ireland, no less illegal in Northern Ireland, and the penalties should be no less severe in Northern Ireland," he added.

"The Government needs to think again."

In a statement, Justice Minister Naomi Long said while the decision on whether or not to extend the legislation to Northern Ireland ultimately lies with the Secretary of State, Stormont officials will "engage on the implications for Northern Ireland, including how any extension of the emergency provisions would be implemented".

"I am fully committed to ensuring the risk posed by terrorist-related offenders is regularly assessed and appropriate measures are deployed to protect the public in Northern Ireland from the risk of harm these individuals pose," she added.

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