The Castlerea Four
The Castlerea Four
(from Coiste)

There are currently four prisoners in Castlerea prison who are serving sentences in relation to the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare on June 7th 1996.

They are: Kevin Walsh, serving 14 years, Pearse McCauley, serving 14 years, Jerry Sheehy, serving 12 years, and Michael O’Neill, serving 11 years, all for manslaughter.

Pearse McCauley is from Strabane, all the rest are from county Limerick.

John Quinn has been released on completion of his sentence.

Since the Good Friday Agreement was signed a total of 429 prisoners have been released in the North and 45 have been released in the South. This includes people convicted of incidents that happened after the Adare robbery. The four Adare men are the only prisoners convicted in relation to the incidents which happened before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Dublin government, through both Bertie Ahern and John O’Donoghue are on public record as stating that these four 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 PDs would not be part of any government that released the men. The appointment of a Progressive Democrat 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 to them 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?

Myths and Facts

A number of myths, propagated by the media, establishment politicians and the Gardaí have been circulated about the men’s cases and their conditions.


The IRA has denied involvement in the attempted robbery in Adare.


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 IRA was on ceasefire at the time.


The first IRA ceasefire ended in February 1996 and the second was called in July 1997. The Adare robbery occurred on the 7th of June 1996. The Good Friday Agreement was agreed in April 1998.


During negotiations the Dublin government told Sinn Féin negotiators that the ‘Prisoners’ section of the Agreement would not include anyone ever charged for the Adare robbery.


Dublin stated they would have difficulties if any of the men were sentenced, but Sinn Féin’s position was that the Agreement must include all prisoners and no such exclusion was inserted in the final Agreement.


The men are convicted murderers.


None of the men were convicted of murder. Four were convicted of manslaughter, which is the unlawful and unintentional killing of a person. It means there was no intention to kill and the State and the Court accepted this.

The Good Friday Agreement

The ‘Prisoners’ section of the Good Friday Agreement states:

• 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). Any such arrangements will protect the rights of individual prisoners under national and international law.

• Prisoners affiliated to organisations which have not established or are not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire will not benefit from the arrangements. The situation in this regard will be kept under review.

• Both Governments will complete a review process within a fixed time frame and set prospective release dates for all qualifying prisoners. The review process would provide for the advance of the release dates of qualifying prisoners while allowing account to be taken of the seriousness of the offences for which the person was convicted and the need to protect the community. In addition, the intention would be that should the circumstances allow it, any qualifying prisoners who remained in custody two years after the commencement of the scheme would be released at that point.

• The Governments will seek to enact the appropriate legislation to give effect to these arrangements by the end of June 1998.

This represents the sections of the Good Friday Agreement dealing with prisoner releases.

A number of points can be made in relations to this.

a) The definition of a ‘qualifying prisoners’ is very clear - someone convicted of ‘scheduled offences’ in the North and ‘similar offences’ elsewhere. The Adare case falls into this category.

b) The only clause that sets out who does not qualify for early release is in paragraph two which states that the only people who will not benefit are those affiliated to organisations that are not on cessation. As the IRA have maintained a cessation since July 1997, and the Agreement was signed in April 1998, the Castlerea Four clearly come under the terms of the Agreement. They are not excluded by any clause in the Agreement.

Supreme Court Judgement

The following is a clip from the judgement delivered 29th January 2004;

“The Good Friday Agreement although it recorded undertakings and arrangements acknowledged by the parties to be binding on them has never at any stage been incorporated in the domestic law of state and that the relevant provisions under consideration in this case conferred no rights on individuals which are capable of enforcement by a court in this jurisdiction has important consequences. Not merely does the 1998 Act confer no power of release on the government or the Minister or, correspondingly, vest any right capable of being enforced on the applicants to be treated as qualifying prisoners. It goes no further than enabling the Minister to specify them as “qualifying prisoners” and seek the advice of the Commission in regard to their release.

Support the Castlerea Four

• Contact your local elected representatives and demand that they support the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, with particular reference to the plight of the Castlerea Four, as part of the search for a meaningful resolution of the conflict. 

• Write to the Minister calling on him to support the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement by releasing the Castlerea Four. Contact him at: Department of Justice, 72/76 St. Stephen’s Green,  Dublin 2. 

• Write to the men, send them your messages of solidarity and support. The address is: Castlerea Prison, Castlerea, Co Roscommon. 

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© 2004 Irish Republican News