There are fresh calls for answers over Royal pardons given to terror convicts after the Secretary of State said they had been granted in exchange for information, and on compassionate grounds.
Theresa Villiers also said that those who received the pardons should not be named, while Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly questioned why the public should need to know who such individuals are.
Ms Villiers made the remarks on a national radio show, broadcast last night, over a month after it was revealed that more than 350 criminals in Northern Ireland received pardons between 1979 and 2002 – although the figure could be higher, since 10 years’ worth of records have been lost.
The Northern Ireland Office had said at the time that the “vast majority” of these were not for terror offences.
In last night’s show, when it comes to how the Royal Prerogatives of Mercy were used in relation to terror cases, Ms Villiers said: “It was used in relation, for example, to cases where people might be released early on compassionate grounds – perhaps if they had terminal illnesses.
“And it was also used in some instances I understand in exchange for information provided to assist the authorities in prosecuting other people. Again, to shorten sentences.”
The TUV said it was hard to stomach talk about mercy being shown to those who had displayed none themselves, whilst the DUP said it would be demanding further answers on how the whole process was handled.
Ms Villiers was asked about revealing just who it was had received the pardons.
She told BBC Radio Four’s ‘File on Four’ show: “We do need to be careful about disclosing the identities of individuals.
“We always have to bear in mind the importance of ensuring that we don’t end up revealing information that can jeopardise life and limb.”
Gerry Kelly was also asked if the recipients of such pardons should be known.
“Why? Why?” he responded.
The presenter said that there were families who want to know. Mr Kelly asked: “But do you think it would help the situation?”
The DUP said yesterday evening, in a statement from Gregory Campbell: “We need to see the truth. We need to know how this was processed and handled.
“I will certainly be raising this matter in Parliament and demanding answers.”
When Ms Villiers had said that Royal pardons were used in cases where information was provided or in cases of compassion, she was responding specifically to a question about cases in the 1980s.
Jim Allister, leader of the TUV, said: “It’s hard to take talk about compassion to those who never showed any compassion, isn’t it?
“Isn’t that the real thing that sticks in the throat of people?
“Those who showed no mercy to their victims were then lining up to get a Royal prerogative of mercy.
“She needs to come cleaner than that I think on all these issues”, adding: “They need to be named.”
It was in early May that the News Letter reported on a response that Labour MP Kate Hoey had obtained showing how many Royal Prerogatives of Mercy had been granted in Northern Ireland between 1979 and 2002 (although there were no figures for the missing decade of records).
She said that the vast bulk of these – 348 – had been granted between the years 1979 and 1986.