I propose to take Questions Nos. 76 and 77 together.
The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 put in place measures for accelerated release under licence within two years of more than 500 prisoners — approximately 300 republican and 200 loyalist — mostly in Northern Ireland but some also in this jurisdiction. The provisions of the Good Friday Agreement with regard to the early release of prisoners dealt with those who had already been convicted of offences committed before 1998. Those provisions did not extend to those who had not yet been convicted of offences or indeed those who committed offences after that date.
The various measures included in the package agreed at Weston Park in August 2001 addressed four issues to assist in the successful implementation of the Good Friday Agreement: policing, normalisation, the stability of the institutions and decommissioning.
Proposed draft legislation by the British Government to deal with this specific issue as referred to in paragraph 20 of the Weston Park Accord was formally introduced by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain MP. Those proposals were withdrawn however when the only supporting party, Sinn Féin, could not accept certain aspects of the proposed legislation. In doing so, the British Government said it was mindful of the views of all the political parties, of victim groups and others.
I and my officials continue to raise prisoner issues with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with the Northern Ireland Executive, which is accountable to the Northern Ireland Assembly.