Four members of the Provisional IRA remain in jail despite a deal for their release being reached in negotiations last year, it has been confirmed.
The four men remain in jail for the manslaughter of a Garda police detective, despite qualifying under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The men are the only prisoners to have been denied release after the issue came under strong political pressure in the 26 Counties.
The Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, told the Dublin parliament on Wednesday that the men would have been released last year if the IRA had decomissioned fully as part of a sequence intended to restore the North’s political institutions.
“It was to happen only in the context of acts of total completion,” he said. “That term means arms decommissioning and an end to all forms of paramilitarism by the IRA, which means that the IRA will have moved definitively away from violence to the end position.”
The October, 2003 deal unravelled when Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble declared himself dissatisfied with the IRA’s act of decommissioning, despite the approval of the independent IICD arms body, who said a substantial tranche of arms had been destroyed.
The Irish and British governments subsequently followed Mr Trimble in reneging on a deal to proceed with the Good Friday Agreement, including a side deal to free the remaining Provisional IRA prisoners in Castlerea.
Enda Kenny, leader of the opposition FIne Gael party, pointed out that promises had been made that these four men would never benefit from the early release provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Ahern said it had been consistently made clear that a “complete” transition to a peaceful and democratic society in the North was required for their release. “I do not want Deputy Kenny to say that it was the mere matter of a single act of arms decommissioning. That was not the arrangement last year, and no one was trying to achieve that. It was only one part of the total process of what we were trying to negotiate in April and October. We are still trying to negotiate that and have not been successful.”
Mr Kenny said that last weekend the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams had said he felt cheated. “However, the people who can rightly feel cheated are Anne McCabe, her family and the late Det Garda McCabe’s relatives, friends and colleagues.”
Speaking earlier, Mr Adams confirmed there had been a deal to release to men.
He said in a statement: “Last October there was an agreed sequence of statements and actions which would have seen the Good Friday Agreement institutions back in place and a process to resolve a number of issues, for example arms and armed groups, Justice and Human Rights, demilitarization, people on the run and other matters including the release of the Castlerea prisoners.
“The UUP leader halted this sequence. The focus of the Sinn Féin leadership since then has been to get the process working again. I am confident that that is An Taoiseach’s aim also and we are working very closely to achieve this. This is an endeavour which should be supported by everyone who wants to make conflict a thing of the past, including opposition parties.
“I am very mindful that the release of the Castlerea prisoners is a sensitive issue and I am especially mindful of the plight of the McCabe family and Mrs McCabe but you asked me if the release of prisoners was part of this agreed sequence. The answer is yes.”