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3 August 2000 Edition

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Release the Castlerea Five

Last Friday, republican prisoners and their relatives celebrated outside Long Kesh as the vast bulk of POWs were released, also signalling the imminent closure of that hated institution. At Castlerea Prison in Roscommon, however, IRA POW Padraic Steenson emerged alone. He left behind five men who clearly qualified for release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

The five prisoners in question, Gerry Sheehy, Pearse McCauley, Mick O'Neill, Kevin Walsh, and John Quinn, were convicted in relation to the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe. The Dublin government has persisted in backing calls from the detective's family and from Gardaí to refuse to release these men, most recently on Wednesday, 2 August, when Bertie Ahern reiterated that stance.

But in doing so, Ahern and Co. are failing to honour a commitment they made under the Good Friday Agreement, subsequently approved by the vast majority of people in the 26-County state and throughout this island. They cannot cherry pick which prisoners should be released. The terms of the Agreement are clear and explicit.

Bertie Ahern's government has a duty to the Good Friday Agreement. At a time when the British government is failing to honour its commitments on the vital issue of policing, the Dublin government should be standing up for the Agreement.

In failing to honour its commitment, Dublin has also presented unionist rejectionists with a stick to beat the entire Agreement, by accusing Dublin of not caring about Northern victims, only Southern victims. The accusation of hypocrisy is one that cannot be avoided.

On 21 April 1998, Labour's Ruairi Quinn, commenting on this case in Leinster House, pointed out the inconsistency of not releasing these prisoners. He said: ``The reaction last week to the call by a Sinn Féin negotiator for the release of those charged with the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe is understandable. There is a trap in this also because there is concern amongst Unionists about how this issue is being handled in the Republic. We cannot allow the message to go out that we tolerate the release of prisoners whose atrocities have been committed in the North while seeking to detain those who have offended against our institutions. Again, a consistency of approach north and south of the border is an absolute necessity if we are to avoid the development of tensions which could undermine the Agreement.''

Quinn and other 26 County politicians need to speak up again now in defence of the Agreement and against the government's inconsistent and dishonest stance.

PJ Stone of the Garda Representative Association, speaking on RTE's Six One News on Wednesday, may have found the demand for these prisoners' release ``boring and repetitive'', but that demand will continue to be heard until these POWs too are freed, as is their right under the Good Friday Agreement.

Free at last!

The release of republican prisoners from Long Kesh last Friday was celebrated across the Six Counties. For full story, see pages 4 and 5.


Contrasting scenes as POWs leave Long Kesh


In scenes reminiscent of the last days of interment in 1975, when the last internees were released, republican POWs last weekend stood in the car park of Long Kesh surrounded by family and friends and by comrades who had been released before them.

On this occasion, Friday 28 July, 46 republican POWs were released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and as they emerged they were greeted by the media as well as many well wishers.

Among those to greet them was Martin Meehan, the last internee to be released in December 1975, and as he took photos of some of those released as they posed with their families, he smiled a smile of satisfaction.

For this was a day of rejoicing for republican POWs and their families; it was a day that marked a milestone in this struggle. Long Kesh, although it still houses a number of republican prisoners, now stands as the white elephant of British policy in Ireland.

The H Blocks and the Cages are, in the political currency of today, bankrupt, and given their role in British policy, where Long Kesh was to be the breakers yard for republicans, it was easy for those same republicans in the year 2000 to smile with satisfaction.

That which was to be the breakers yard is now a broken image and as Jim `Flash' McVeigh, the last OC of republican prisoners in Long Kesh, read his statement to the world's media, he was dwarfed by Long Kesh's walls and watch towers.

In full view of the world's media, McVeigh flanked by Brendan `Bik' McFarlane and Gerry Kelly, both past pupils of the University of Revolution, restated the commitment of republicans to the, ``goals for which so many gave their lives, that is, the establishment of a united, democratic, socialist republic''.

McVeigh also said: ``We walk free from this prison camp, as have our comrades before us, proud republicans, unbowed and unbroken''.

In sharp contrast to the dignity of the republicans who were in that car park last Friday, the loyalists there brought with them images that smacked of terror, intimidation and a sinister mien associated with death squad ideology.

The UDA carried their banners and flags. `Simply the Best', they read. The best at what? Killing people for no reason other than they were Catholic?

Other loyalist prisoners left Long Kesh with their faces covered, hurried into cars and away.

At the heart of this contrast is the fact that republicans are clear about the political objectives they want to achieve and moreso, they are clear about the nature of the state they have faced over the years.

For loyalists, imprisonment was a contradiction. They were `loyal' to the very state that imprisoned them and could never understand that they were only cannon fodder. For those loyalists who skulked away from Long Kesh, hidden from the media and the world, the question remains: why is it that the ``fight for God and Ulster'' didn't bring with it the courage to face the world and explain their actions?


Historic day in Derry


Free Derry Wall has been a gathering point for Derry republicans throughout this struggle. It is the place where so many historic events have taken place and is synonymous with the civil rights struggle. It is where we witnessed 14 of our friends, neighbours and family members gunned down by British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday. It is where we stood our ground in the ``Battle of the Bogside''. And so it is fitting that Derry republicans gathered again at the wall to witness yet another historic event unfold, this time a joyous one.

The release and homecoming of Tony Doherty from Long Kesh is significant for two reasons. First it signals the imminent closing of Long Kesh, secondly Tony's release is special because he is Derry's last POW to be released and returned home.

Among the hundreds who tuerned up were Derry's new Sinn Féin mayor, Cathal Crumley, along with Mitchel McLaughlin, Bairbre de Brún, the city's Sinn Féin councillors and many of Derry's former POWs. A short time later, the sound of car horns in the distance signaled Tony's arrival and the crowd began to cheer and move onto the street surrounding his car. Tony emerged to the cheers of his friends, comrades, neighbours and family. He appeared overwhelmed at the big Derry welcome. After a few private hugs and tears, he was taken to the base of Free Derry Wall for a special commemoration presentation and speech in honour of the occasion.

Derry's Martina Anderson knows only too well what Tony must have been feeling, as she herself was only released just over a year ago. Her speech captured the emotion of the day. We were reminded of the history of Long Kesh and the huge part it played in our lives for so many years.

Martina spoke of the many battles which epitomise Irish republicans' refusal to allow our struggle to be criminalised by the British and she named those struggles as we each recalled them in our own memories.

Speaking as a former POW herself and on behalf of the Derry POWs, she thanked the people of Derry for their support along with the Prisoners Dependants Fund, which made precious visits possible.

She reminded those gathered that this struggle is not and was not about prisoner releases, that the goal of Irish unity is still the centre of the republican struggle, and while we are grateful for the release of our comrades, we are still faced with much of the same injustices which took our people to those jails.


Prisoner releases given cautious welcome


Eighty six prisoners were released last Friday under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, including 47 Óglaigh na hÉireann POWs.

While the releases were welcomed by the IRA prisoners, disapointment was expressed that five republican prisoners remain in Castlerea jail in the 26 County state.

46 of the IRA POWs were released from Long Kesh and another was released from Castlerea . Two statements were made on behalf of the prisoners as they emerged from the jails north and south of the border.

Jim McVeigh, the most recent IRA Officer Commanding in Long Kesh, stated that republicans would leave the prison ``unbowed and unbroken.

``We are determined to pursue and achieve goals for which so many gave their lives,'' he said, ``the establishment of a united and democratic socialist republic.''

McVeigh also emphasised that republicans intend to build on the peace process with whoever is ``prepared to help build a new future for all our people.

``As republicans who have experienced suffering we understand the hurt of others.''

Pádraic Steenson, the only prisoner to be released in the 26 Counties, emerged from Castlerea to thank all those ``involved in securing my early release. As you are aware prisoner releases are an important step under the Good Friday agreement''.

However, the main thrust of Steenson's statement was critical of the 26-County government's failure to release the comrades he left behind.

``I have to stress that I am saddened that I have left behind some of my comrades,'' he said. ``It is hypocritical that the Irish governmnet have failed to release them under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement even though they are qualifying prisoners. They have no right to cherry pick who qualifies to suit their own political agenda.

``The remaining republican prisoners fully support the leadership of the Republican Movement in their efforts to secure a just and lasting peace in Ireland,'' Steenson concluded.


O'Donoghue's exercise in hypocrisy


The 26-County government's attitude towards the release of republican prisoners this week has shown the depths of hypocrisy and insincerity to which they are prepared to stoop.

Their claims that they had told Sinn Féin during the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement that those convicted in relation to the killing of Garda Jerry McCabe would not be released under its terms have been rejected.

When questioned on the claims this week, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams stated that ``the government didn't and couldn't have'' made such a demand. ``These people weren't convicted at the time, but I made it clear that if they were convicted that they would be qualifying prisoners, if members of the IRA, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, for early release along with all the other prisoners.

``There is nothing written down anywhere which says that these men are not qualifying prisoners,'' Adams said.

Progressive Democrats chairperson, John Minihan had earlier lambasted the republican POWs who still remain in Castlerea as ``a criminal gang, engaged in a criminal purpose and who committed a criminal act''. He went on to claim that Sinn Féin's call for the release of all IRA prisoners is ``callous political opportunism''.

Surely, if anyone stands accused of this it is the PD chair, whose stance is inimical to the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement and probably designed to create some cheap, sensationalist media focus for his floundering political party.

Michael Kirby, a member of the National Council of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), claimed to have received assurances that the prisoners will not be released.

When asked by newscaster Brian Dobson if this stance was not forgetful of the pain which is shared by other victims of the conflict and against the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, he washed his hands of any responsibility for anybody except the GRA: ``We never supported the early release of these prisoners... We have absolute sympathy with the RUC members and their families who suffer grievance in this way.''

The 26-County government may yet try to shake any responsibility for the release of the remaining four prisoners by forcing a legal challenge to the decision not to release the Castlerea men.

In all of this, the McCabe family's suffering cannot be forgotten, but neither can we forget that they did not suffer in exclusion. Healing starts when we begin to understand that everybody on this island must be a party to the process of change.

Further evidence, if it was needed, of the hypocrisy of the Dublin government's position lies in the simple fact that they claim to have exempted the five IRA Volunteers from release yet they did not make this a condition of the Good Friday Agreement.

These frustratingly incoherent and emotive arguments for the continued detention of republican prisoners have deflected attention from the issues that should be commanding everyone's attention. As Gerry Adams stated earlier this week, ``the Policing Bill is, of course, the big issue and should be the focus on which all of the political parties put their interest.


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