A controversial republican prisoner has taken a first step towards his eventual release in the 26 Counties.
Dessie O'Hare, who was sentenced to 40 years in jail for offences including kidnap and assault, was granted temporary release early yesterday morning.
Officials said the man once known as `the Border Fox' was released to attend a course on conflict resolution. They refused to confirm or deny reports that O'Hare would be freed by Christmas.
O'Hare claimed he was a member of the breakaway Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) and therefore eligible for early release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
He was deemed a qualifying prisoner under the scheme in November 2000, by the then justice minister John O'Donoghue, but his release was inexplicably held up.
In a bid to speed up his release he undertook a successful legal challenge at the High Court in Dublin, which last year ordered there should be no ``foot dragging'' on the matter.
The Release of Prisoners Commissioner - also set up under the Good Friday Agreement - considered the issue and recommended the move.
But there was still months of delay before was first transferred to the lower security section of County Roscommon's Castlerea Prison and earlier today granted his first temporary release.
However, a group of four other Republican prisoners, associated with the mainstream Republican Movement, still remain in jail awaiting a release date.