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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.K. Eases Jail Terms In Ireland

BELFAST -- Britain eased jail terms for hundreds of Northern Ireland guerrillas Friday in hopes of breaking the deadlock in a year-old diplomatic drive to reach a lasting settlement to the province's 25-year sectarian conflict.

Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew announced easier remission terms and a promise to review emergency laws and the role of the controversial police force just days before the first anniversary of a landmark IRA guerrilla truce.

The move was seen as a significant easing of British policy toward some 1,000 IRA Republicans and Protestant "Loyalists" in British jails, and an attempt to keep an Anglo-Irish peace initiative on track at a critical stage.

But it fell far short of the total amnesty sought by the IRA, which fought to end British rule in the province, and by Loyalist gunmen who killed Catholics in a murky campaign to keep it British.

Sinn Fein has warned of a return to the conflict if there is no breakthrough on the peace process by the Sept. 1 anniversary of the IRA truce.

Mayhew said in an address to university academics in Belfast that prisoners jailed since 1989 would become eligible for remission after serving half of their sentence rather than the present two-thirds, a move which could free 100 republican and Loyalist convicts.

"Another 300 would ultimately benefit from the change. It would, in very tangible terms, be of real benefit to the developing peace," Mayhew said.

Sinn Fein's initial reaction to the easing of remission terms to what they were before 1989, when they were toughened, was downbeat.

"Restoring the rate of remission to what it was before November 1989 is hardly a step forward or the imagination which the situation demands," said Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin.

Protestant Unionists were bitterly critical too.

"It is a slap in the face for the victims' relatives while terrorists are being taken by the hand," said Sammy Wilson, chairman of the hardline Democratic Unionist Party.