Northern Ireland

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly confirms he had royal pardon

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Media captionExchange between TUV leader Jim Allister and Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly on Talkback

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly has confirmed that he received the Royal Prerogative of Mercy after he was recaptured in the Netherlands in 1986.

He was speaking on Tuesday after the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee published its report on the controversial On the Runs scheme.

Mr Kelly escaped from the Maze Prison in 1983 while serving a jail sentence for the 1973 IRA Old Bailey bombing.

He told the BBC's Talkback he received the pardon, but not as an "On the Run".

'Quashed'

The Royal Prerogative of Mercy, commonly known as a royal pardon, allows changes in sentences without the backing of or consultation with parliament.

Last year, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers disclosed that 365 royal pardons had been issued between 1979 and 2002.

It is not clear how many of those pardoned were members of paramilitary groups, or what proportion, if any, were members of the security forces.

The Northern Ireland Office has previously said the vast majority of pardons were not terrorism-related.

Asked by TUV leader Jim Allister if he had received a Royal Prerogative of Mercy, Mr Kelly said: "Actually I have - if you remember, and I presume you do, I was arrested in Holland, and the Dutch quashed all my sentences and the British agreed to that to get me back here, by the way, and yes, it was after an escape.

"But it wasn't a letter to do with On The Runs or to do with this scheme at all."

Mr Allister asked him: "From Her Majesty, the one against whom you were leading rebellion, you have a letter of Royal Prerogative of Mercy?"

Mr Kelly said: "The Dutch said they would not extradite me unless the British (government) quashed the sentences.

"Now it was up to the British (government) to quash the sentences whatever way they wanted to quash them - if they chose to produce a prerogative then that's their choice."

Mr Kelly was arrested in the Netherlands in 1986, about three years after he escaped from the Maze prison.

The British authorities applied to extradite him, but the Dutch Supreme Court would not allow it on the basis of charges for which he had already been convicted.

However, they did allow the extradition to go ahead on the basis of several charges that the British authorities wanted to bring in relation to the Maze escape.

According to a Sinn Féin source, the UK government chose to use the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in order to quash his convictions that pre-dated the Maze escape, in order to extradite him to face charges in connection with the escape.

Upon his return to Northern Ireland, he spent another few years in jail.

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