CASTLEREA 4 RELEASE COULD FOLLOW DEAL - AHERN
The release of Provisional IRA prisoners still held at Castlerea
jail are a bargaining chip for the Dublin government in its
continuing negotiations with Sinn Fein, the Irish Prime Minister
Bertie Ahern has confirmed.
Dublin officials said they would release those jailed for the
manslaughter of a police detective in 1996 if a final deal to
bring "Provisional paramilitarism" to an end.
Despite frequent claims to the contrary, they confirmed they
were always prepared to consider the release of the four men
held in County Roscommon in such circumstances.
Michael O'Neill, Jeremiah Sheehy, Kevin Walsh and Pearse McAuley
received lengthy sentences in 1999 for the death of Garda Jerry
McCabe in an abortive raid in Adare, County Limerick.
The Provisional IRA initially denied involvement but later said
its members had been acting without authority.
On Saturday, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, said: "What we, in
Government, have said is that we will not give consideration to
the early release of those prisoners as long as Provisional
paramilitarism is involved. That has been the position in
Government and until we get to that end position we don't give
consideration to it.
"What we have been trying to get to for the last number of years
is to get to acts of completion: full, verified acts of
completion and the end of paramilitarism."
The Government, he promised, would discuss the issue with the
family of the deceased detective if a final agreement to end the
Provisional IRA was near.
"We have said a number of times that if we come to a position
that we find that we are in a closure agreement, and if that was
part of that agreement we would then consult with the
authorities and, of course, with the McCabe family, and his
widow. But we are not at that stage. Unfortunately, I don't
think we are near that stage," Mr Ahern said.
Predictably, there was some cabinet disunity on the issue, with
the Deputy Prime Minister, Mary Harney, insisting the situation
had not changed, and that the four men were not eligible for
release under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Former opposition leader Michael Noonan, accused the coalition
government of "slithering away" from past guarantees that the
four men would not be released before time.
PRISONERS THREATEN PROTEST OVER PAROLE
Meanwhile, dissident prisoners in Portlaoise prison have
threatened to stage a protest in a dispute over the treatment of
'Real IRA' leader Michael McKevitt.
McKevitt, who is serving a 20-year term at the jail for his
controversial conviction for 'directing terrorism', chose not to
attend his mother's funeral on Thursday after rejecting the
terms of leave offered to him by the Prison Service.
The offer of release by prison authorities, initially declined,
was limited to a few hours at the church ceremony and burial
under armed escort.
In a statement last night his fellow republican dissident
inmates said their status as political prisoners had been
Referring to McKevitt, the statement said: "The Department of
Justice has discriminated against one of our comrades; it has
reneged on its commitments; it has acted in bad faith and it has
attacked our status as political prisoners.
"As republican prisoners we are prepared to pay any price to
uphold our political status.
"If this issue is not resolved our protest will escalate over
the coming days."
The prisoners accused the prison service of breaking an
agreement made with the Department of Justice in January last
year about attending funerals.