Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain tonight defended his controversial decision to release the Shankill bomber Sean Kelly.
The dramatic move, on the eve of the IRA’s historic statement on its future, was strongly condemned by unionists.
But Peter Hain said the grounds on which he granted Kelly’s temporary release - just weeks after he was returned to Maghaberry Prison, Co Antrim - had changed.
Mr Hain said: “Today’s statement by the IRA has created a new situation and thereby changed the context of my original decision to suspend Sean Kelly’s licence.
“The (British) government accepts that the statement by the IRA is intended to express an end to paramilitary activity and criminality.
“Having seen the statement I judged that it materially affected the evidence that I would have submitted to the Sentence Review Commissioners.”
He added: “In particular the material on which I based my original decision no longer supported the conviction that Sean Kelly would be a danger to others if he were at liberty. I have therefore concluded that I should not submit this material to the SRC.
“On the basis that I no longer consider it appropriate that his licence should be revoked it would have been wrong to keep him in prison until the SRC had made a formal decision in his case.”
A man whose wife was among the victims of Sean Kelly hit out at the decision to release him.
Alan McBride said Kelly’s release would only heighten unionist and Protestant scepticism.
Mr McBride, 40, whose wife and father-in-law were among those killed when Kelly’s bomb exploded prematurely in a Shankill Road fish shop in Belfast in 1993, claimed he should never be back on the streets.
He said: “Just seeing him out sends a chill up my spine. It represents another concession to republicanism and because of it this IRA statement will not have the significant impact on the unionist community it might, just might, otherwise have had.”
His wife Sharon and father-in-law Fred Frizell were among the nine people killed in the attack in October 1993.
Kelly’s IRA accomplice, Thomas Begley, was also killed, in one of the most notorious atrocities of the Troubles.
Kelly was given nine life sentences but was released under the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Hain ordered his re-arrest last month amid suspicions by security chiefs he had again become involved in terrorism.
No details were released, but Sinn Féin and Ardoyne priest father Aidan Troy called for his release.
The move shocked the Rev Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists and Reg Empey’s Ulster Unionists and left Mr McBride deeply dismayed.
He said: “I’ve always stated the British government should have provided the evidence, to come clean on the reasons why Kelly was sent back to jail.
“It’s quite obvious why he was dumped back on the streets and this does nobody any good. He’s out for a reason.”