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.