Northern Ireland

16 Irish republicans received royal pardons since 2000

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Media captionNigel Dodds asked the prime minister to release all the names of republicans who have been granted royal pardons

Sixteen republicans received royal pardons between 2000 and 2002, the Northern Ireland Office has disclosed.

The NIO gave fresh details about when the pardons were given after Tuesday's confirmation by Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly that he too was a recipient.

It said the current government had not used the Royal Prerogative of Mercy in relation to Northern Ireland.

The pardons allow changes in sentences without the backing of or consultation with parliament.

The NIO said those issued between 2000 and 2002 were "in relation to individuals who for technical reasons fell outside the letter of the [prisoner] Early Release Scheme".

'Release names'

Earlier, North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds asked the prime minister to release all the names of republicans who were granted royal pardons.

Mr Dodds raised the issue in the House of Commons. David Cameron said he would consider what more the government could do to be transparent.

He added that past governments had had to make difficult decisions for peace.

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.

In the Commons on Wednesday, Mr Dodds asked: "Would the prime minister now list in the library of the House all those other Sinn Féin members and leading republicans who have likewise received a royal pardon, so that republicans in Northern Ireland can know which of their stalwart leaders have either begged or asked or received probably on bended knee such a royal pardon - and secondly, so that everyone can know in the country which governments have been involved in such nefarious activities?"

Image caption David Cameron said past governments had had to make difficult decisions in the past with respect to Northern Ireland

Mr Cameron replied: "I will look very carefully at what the member asks and what more we can do to be transparent."

He went on: "Governments in the past have had to make difficult decisions with respect to Northern Ireland to try to bring parties together and produce the peaceful outcome we have today.

"That has involved difficult compromises and things that he and probably I have found at times deeply distasteful. But sometimes in the pursuit of peace these things have to be done."

Kelly extradition

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.

Image caption Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said the pardon was not linked to the On the Runs scheme

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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