Written Answers. - Amnesty for Prisoners.
99 Mrs. Owen asked the Minister for Justice if she will make a statement on her recent comments on the question of an amnesty for prisoners who were convicted of offences relating to the Provisional IRA campaign over the past 25 years. [1936/94]
I am glad to have this opportunity to clarify the position of prisoners convicted of subversive offences in the light of the cessation of the campaign of violence.
I should like to begin with some general comments. The management of sentences is a matter for my Department. The Minister for Justice has power, conferred by Statute, to grant early conditional releases to offenders and it is a power which is exercised on a daily basis. In making a decision the Minister takes account of a number of factors including the nature of the offence; the length of sentence served; the offender's conduct while in prison, and most importantly, the likely threat to the community if the offender were granted early release.
In assessing these factors, the Minister takes advice from a variety of sources, for example, prison management, Garda authorities, Probation and Welfare Service, as well as officials of his or her Department. Recommendations for early conditional release may also originate with the sentence review group whose terms of reference permit them to review all offenders who have served seven years of their sentence.
That then is the general position. The ending of the campaign of violence by the Provisional IRA has introduced a new dimension for offenders who claim membership of that organisation. While the same criteria will be applied, when it comes to considering the question of temporary release for individual PIRA offenders, and while it remains the position that each case will fall to be considered on its own merits, it is to be expected that the advice which I will receive from the prisons, from my own Department and from other relevant sources will differ in one important respect from that which I would receive had the campaign not ended. I am likely to be advised, in many cases, that the threat to the community which would be posed by the release of the individuals concerned has diminished, now that the violence campaign on the "outside" has ended. I will still, as I say, look at each case on its own merits but I expect that the result of the examination of individual cases — which incidentally has already commenced — will be that some will be given release dates earlier than would have applied had the campaign not ended.