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25 July 2002 Edition

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Castlerea Five must be released

BY JUSTIN MORAN


In recent weeks, as the newest in the long line of Peace Process crises has developed, we have heard again and again from the London and Dublin governments of the necessity of implementing the Agreement. Bertie Ahern has even gone further, suggesting that the logical conclusion of the Good Friday Agreement includes the disbandment of the IRA. The hypocrisy of this, coming from a man who steadfastly refuses to implement what republicans consider one of the most vital parts of the Agreement, is breathtaking.

Two years after all paramilitary prisoners were to be released, five IRA prisoners, eligible for parole under the Agreement, remain incarcerated in Castlerea Prison, Roscommon. Kevin Walsh, John Quinn, Jerry Sheehy and Michael O'Neill from County Limerick, along with Pearse McCauley from Strabane, are serving sentences in relation to the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare on 7 June 7 1996.

The Dublin government, through both Bertie Ahern and John O'Donoghue, are on public record as stating that these five men will not benefit from the releases agreed in the Good Friday Agreement. They have never argued that they are not IRA prisoners, only that they do not come under the terms of the Agreement. Mary Harney stated in the run-up to the general election that the Progressive Democrats (PDs) would not be part of any government that released the men. The appointment of a PD Minister for Justice in Michael McDowell holds little hope of any real progress.

The reasons put forward by Dublin as to why the men will not be released have changed since the signing of the Agreement. In response to a letter from the Alliance Party in the Six Counties four years ago, John O'Donoghue wrote back stating that the release of the men was impossible as it might jeopardise the referendum on the Agreement.

They have continued to alter their explanations and their claims as time has passed. Their refusal to implement the Agreement has widespread repercussions. How can the Dublin government call on anyone to commit to the Peace Process when they refuse to implement the Agreement they signed up to and the Irish people voted for?

The Dublin government has been the target of intense pressure from a variety of sources to ensure that the Castlerea Five serve their sentences. The Garda Representative Association has consistently demanded that the men serve their full sentences and, with a few notable exceptions, the establishment media has forcefully pushed this line, often repeating inaccurate claims about the men and their case in print.

It is often stated, for example, that the IRA was on cessation when the attempted robbery took place. In fact the first cessation ended in February 1996 and the second was called in July 1997. The incident at Adare occurred in June of 1996. Pejorative terms are thrown about to confuse the issues at stake. The men are habitually referred to as convicted murderers when four were convicted of manslaughter, the unlawful and unintentional killing of a person, and one man, John Quinn, was convicted of conspiracy to commit a robbery.

The conditions the men are held under are constantly trivialised, with stories of trips to local restaurants and special privileges that bear little, if any, resemblance to the truth. This ignores the fundamental fact that the men should not be in prison in the first place.

The Agreement could not be clearer on the issue:

"1. Both Governments will put in place mechanisms to provide for an accelerated programme for the release of prisoners, including transferred prisoners, convicted of scheduled offences in Northern Ireland or, in the case of those sentenced outside Northern Ireland, similar offences (referred to hereafter as qualifying prisoners)..."

The Adare case clearly falls into the 'scheduled or similar offences', with several prisoners imprisoned as a result of similar operations already released.

So on what grounds do the State hold the men?

Two explanations are most commonly advanced for their incarceration. Firstly, the Dublin government claims that it was made clear to Sinn Féin during the Agreement negotiations that the prisoners who were to go on trial for the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe would not benefit from the early release programme.

Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly strenuously denies this:

"The facts are quite straightforward, The Good Friday Agreement covers all IRA prisoners imprisoned for incidents, which occurred before 10 April 1998, regardless of the jurisdiction they were or are jailed in.

Sinn Féin did raise the case of these prisoners, along with others. The Dublin government's representatives said that if these men were sentenced their early release would cause difficulties but we insisted there could be no exceptions.

The absence of any clause in the Good Friday Agreement excluding these particular prisoners is proof of how the negotiations closed."

The second stated reason for holding the men is that the operation they were on was not authorised by the IRA leadership. While the IRA at first disclaimed knowledge of the operation this position was reversed a week afterwards following an initial inquiry. All five men were accepted and treated as IRA prisoners while in Portlaoise prison and they were moved to Castlerea as part of the IRA unit. They continue to be seen as IRA prisoners by the Dublin government and the prison authorities.

The prisoners are currently pursuing legal avenues to obtain their release but the campaign for their release must be pushed at all levels. The Castlerea Five are political hostages, held in violation of the Agreement by a Dublin government that sees fit to lecture others on the necessity of living up to the promises they undertook.

Republicans have delivered time and again for this Process, despite doubts. It is time for Dublin to live up to its responsibilities and release the Castlerea Five.


Coiste na n-Iarchimí is currently distributing a briefing document to interested parties and groups. If you would be interested in obtaining a copy, or arranging a visit to see the men, please contact Coiste na n-Iarchimí, Dublin.
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