The case of four Republican prisoners who were denied release under the Good Friday Agreement was in the spotlight tonight amid allegations that their release was a secret part of a deal that collapsed dramatically in October last year.

Four men were jailed for his manslaughter, but they subsequently qualified for release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. However, the men, who received sentences ranging from 11 to 14 years from the Special Criminal Court, were uniquely denied freedom.

Sinn Féin has refused to confirm claims the Irish government finally agreed to free the four prisoners as part of last October’s deal to restore the Belfast Assembly.

But the choreographed deal faltered when Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble raised concerns about the lack of transparency surrounding the IRA’s third act of weapons decommissioning.

Now a row over the issue appears to have been inspired for political purposes in a blame-game over the continuing failure of the talks process.

David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, claimed he knew nothing of the plan and was shocked and outraged.

He said it proved he was right to back out of the process. “How can you deal with people who do this?” Mr Trimble asked.

“You think you know what you are dealing with, but it turns round there’s some devious little plan going on in the corner.”

But Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the rival DUP, claimed Mr Trimble must have known something.

One of Mr Trimble’s colleagues, Fred Cobain, said the process had become “totally corrupted”.

“It seems there`s no bottom line and republicans can pressure the governments to get whatever they want.”

The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors also expressed concern, as did the main opposition party in the South, Fine Gael.

Speaking in Dublin, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said that he sympathised with Garda McCabe’s wife and her entire family.

“She has undergone a very traumatic ordeal over many years.”

“It’s our view that they should be released but I`m not going to make any comment about what the two Governments may or may not have agreed.

“It is our view that this case needs to be resolved and we are involved with both the British and Irish Governments and are exploring if there is a basis to restore the power sharing in the North.”

Mr McGuinness said Sinn Féin deliberately chosen for the sake of the peace process not to divulge details of any deals it had struck with the British and Irish governments.

The storn blew up as the latest British-Irish initiative to restore devolved government to the Six Counties was reported to have run into difficulties.

Last night David Trimble, signalled he does not consider the British government “obligated to Sinn Féin” in terms of any matters arising from his decision to back out from the agreed sequence in October.

The DUP is also reported to be refusing to discuss the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Stormont Assembly.

Meanwhile, there still remains no sign that the British government will move on its outstanding commitments from the October deal, including demilitarisation and normalisation of the status of republicans ‘on-the-run’.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News