A high-profile Sinn Fein politician has revealed he received a Royal pardon from the Queen during the Troubles.
Gerry Kelly, who was handed two life sentences after being convicted for his role in the IRA’s Old Bailey bombing in 1973, said he was given a Royal Prerogative of Mercy in the mid-1980s as part of a legal deal to secure his extradition back to the UK from the Netherlands.
Now Assembly Member for North Belfast, Mr Kelly was arrested in Holland three years after his 1983 escape from the Maze paramilitary prison in Northern Ireland.
He was extradited back to Northern Ireland in 1986 and spent three more years in the Maze before his release in 1989.
The disclosure about the Royal pardon came during a radio exchange with Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister over the contents of a Westminster report on on-the-run Irish republicans.
While the inquiry by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee dealt primarily with those on-the-runs outside the jurisdiction who had not yet been charged with an offence, it also touched on those convicted of offences who were able to return after securing a Royal pardon.
The committee had expressed concern that the names of those who had received such pardons had not been made public.
When Mr Allister challenged Mr Kelly on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback show about whether he had a Royal Prerogative of Mercy, he replied: “Actually, I have.”
Mr Kelly stressed he was not dealt with under the scheme for on-the-runs, that saw around 190 letters of assurance sent to republicans.
“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,” he said.
“The Dutch said they would not extradite me unless the British quashed the sentences - it was up to the British to quash the sentences whatever way they wanted to quash them.
“If they chose to produce a prerogative then that’s the way it did - I didn’t care what way it was done.
“The point was I came back to Ireland as a remand prisoner as opposed to someone who was doing this length of sentence because the Dutch - their courts - came to the conclusion that it was unjust.”
The Government has previously acknowledged that a number of pardons were issued in terrorism-related cases during and after the Troubles.
Mr Allister said he had written to Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers to demand details about how and why a pardon was issued to Mr Kelly.
“This is the first time that this information has come into the public domain and I have today written to the Secretary of State demanding answers on what exactly Kelly was pardoned for,” he said.
The TUV leader added: “This latest revelation is yet another reminder of the peace process’s “heart of darkness”.