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Maze Escape Party Row

(Sinead King, The People)

A top Unionist MP last night branded a celebratory reunion of the 1983 Provo mass break-out from the Maze as "disgusting".

Jeffrey Donaldson has demanded that pardons granted to a number of the on-the-run prisoners be revoked - and urged Gardai to lift them if they show up. Seamus Campbell, Gerard Fryers, Dermot McNally, Seamus Clarke and James Clarke, were among 38 prisoners who escaped in a food delivery van from the top security Maze jail in 1983, in the most audacious break-out in British prison history.

One prison officer died during a struggle at the main gate when he suffered a heart attack after being stabbed.

Half of those who escaped were captured within days and many others were successfully extradited from the US, mainland Europe and the Irish Republic. But for nearly two decades the others managed to elude the best efforts of a world wide police hunt. They were granted pardons in 2001 under a government amnesty. Seamus Campbell and Gerard Fryers have never been traced since their release.

Now Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson has called on Gardai to monitor the celebrations at the Holiday Inn in Letterkenny - in case they turn up. Top Sinn Féin spokesman Gerry Kelly and leading republicans Bobby Storey and Brendan Bik McFarlane - who all took part in the break-out - will speak at the event this Friday night.

Guests will be treated to a slap up carvery meal washed down with wine. Guests are also being offered special rates on rooms.

Mr Donaldson, the MP for Lagan Valley, said: "It just goes to show how brazen republicans have become about their sordid activities in the past .

"It's disgusting to think that they are celebrating when a prison officer lost his life during the break-out."

Mr Donaldson said there was now an onus on Gardai to arrest and extradite the three prisoners if they show their faces at the event.

Now Provos from around the country are being invited to Donegal to hear "the true story" of the historic break-out to be told by former assembly member Gerry Kelly, former H-block OC Brendan Bik McFarlane and Bobby Storey. But Mr Donaldson, who says he has dealt with prison officers still traumatised by events to this day, called on authorities to clamp down on the republicans.

"Irish police should be monitoring this event but because of our Government's treachery some of these escapees are no longer fugitives.

"It is highly offensive to the family of James Ferris - the prison officer who died in the escape - and all prison officers.

"And many other people have suffered at the hands of these terrorists - they shouldn't be allowed to flaunt their sickening crimes."

Mr Ferris, 43, from Donaghadee, died of a heart attack after being stabbed.

September 19, 2003

This article appeared first in The People on September 14, 2003.