THE British government cannot have expected to have an easy time over its legislation to deal with those Northern Ireland terrorist suspects still “o the run” and outside the UK's justice system. In the event on Wednesday it obtained the approval of the House of Commons that it needed, but only after many moving and some bitter things were said about an arrangement which will, in effect, enable suspected IRA terrorists to return to Northern Ireland without the expectation of being arrested, tried and imprisoned if found guilty. Instead the government's intention is that they should appear before a special court which would release them on licence conditions that would enable the authorities to re-rrest and imprison them if they commited a serious crime again. It is not only those who suffered, directly or indirectly, from IRA violence in the past who are sickened by the need for this arrangement; many believe that it is altogether wrong in principle. However, the problem it tries to solve is that under the Good Friday Agreement 400 paramilitary prisoners were released on licence but those others who were already abroad could not benefit from this concession; the new legislation is designed to put this anomaly right. Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland minister told the House of Commons, “I do not put forward this legislation with a spring in my step because I know how hard it is for those who have lost so much.” But he also made it plain that the legislation was necessary to reach the endgame of a period of transition in Northern Ireland that began in the early 1990s. Taking the broad view, Northern Ireland has benefitted enormously from the Good Friday Agreement and this new legislation is the price that has to be paid to enable that benefit to be sustained.


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