When is a terrorist no longer a terrorist?

As the peace process continues in Northern Ireland the High Court is set to examine the position of jailed terrorists seeking parole.

Five convicted IRA terrorists, currently serving life sentences have won the right to mount a High Court challenge over what they claim are "irrational and unreasonable" delays in the hearing of their parole applications.

All five are represented by Edward Fitzgerald QC, who at the recent successful hearing for leave to bring the proceedings argued they were entitled to an immediate parole board hearing. He based his argument on the fact that the five, Brendan Dowd, at one time named as the senior terrorist organiser in Britain, and Paul Norney, the longest serving Irish Republican prisoner, Sean Kinsella, Stephen Nordone and Noel Gibson have all completed the 20-year tariffs on their discretionary life sentences.

The five received 16 life sentences at Manchester Crown Court in 1976 after being found guilty of charges including conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and possession of arms and explosives.

The Northern Ireland peace process seems likely to play a significant role when the case comes on in argument that they are now entitled to at least be considered for parole.

Fitzgerald has already told the judge the only reason that could justify continued imprisonment would be that they presented a danger to the public. However, he said in view of the ceasefire they could no longer be considered dangerous and in these circumstances their continued detention in prison amounted to a violation of their rights.

He claims the parole board has been "inflexible" in unfairly refusing to hear the applications before December 11, the date fixed for the hearing.