2 July 1998
O'Caoláin calls for amnesty
Text of a speech by Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, speaking in Leinster House today on the ``Release of Prisoners Bill''
I stand in this house today to support the passing of this Bill, to accept the amendment tabled by the Minister and in opposition to amendments proposed by Deputies Charlie Flanagan (Fine Gael) and Proinsias de Rossa (Democratic Left).
This Bill, the ``Release of Prisoners Bill'' has been drafted with the clear remit of giving effect to the release of all those imprisoned in this state as a consequence of the conflict which has raged on between these islands over the past three decades. This is in line with the outcome of the recent multi-party talks at Stormont and the ratification by the electorate throughout this island of the agreement reached.
During my first year as TD I have visited jails in every state where Irish republican prisoners are held - in this state, in the six counties, in England and in the United States. I have met with prisoners who have maintained their political integrity and personal dignity through the worst ravages of abusive regimes, some incarcerated now well in excess of 20 years.
Irish republican prisoners, as political activists and not as hostages - have played a key part in the peace process. I welcome the acknowledgement of that fact by other Deputies here today. I pay tribute to these prisoners and especially their families who have endured so much.
The debate on the new British legislation on prisoners was skewed in a most negative direction. I trust that that will not be reflected here today. We have seen the quite cynical and selective political and media manipulation of the views of a section of victims of the conflict.
This has been done in order to resist the principle that in a conflict resolution situation the release of political prisoners is essential.
Republicans have acknowledged time and time again, the hurt and pain for which we have been responsible. We, more than most, know the reality of loss, as we have suffered loss and more ourselves. But to set victims against prisoners and their families, who have themselves suffered much is to return to the old mindset of conflict.
If the conflict is to be resolved and lasting peace achieved then all political prisoners must be released. No ifs, no buts, no preconditions.
Just as there should be no apartheid between victims there should be no apartheid between prisoners.
Sinn Fein will continue to work for the return of all those in prison as a result of the conflict, to their families and communities.
Among the number of outstanding issues that remain to be addressed include the need to: end political extradition, the plight of prisoners in the United States, uncertainties and fears of those facing deportation from the United States and their families, regularisation of the status of prisoners already released here - those on licence.
Only a general amnesty can finally resolve these and the other outstanding matters that come under this broad and important area of concern as we move forward towards a final resolution of the differences that have divided us as a people on this island and that have coloured our relationships with the people of the neighbouring island.
A spirit that matches the hope and expectation of the overwhelming number of the Irish people is required here today - not a begrudging minimalist and selective attitude towards this critical issue.
Molaim an Bille don Teach.
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