A High Court judge has again allowed the 26-County state another three weeks to avoid a challenge by four republicans jailed for the manslaughter of a Garda police detective to its repeated refusal to grant them temporary release.
Kevin Walsh, Michael O’Neill, Pearse McAuley and Jeremiah Sheehy, who are all in custody in Castlerea Prison, should have been participating in the normal temporary release program afforded to prisoners approaching the end of their jail terms.
The men have also been refused participation in the prisoner release program set up under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The four, one of whom who fatally shot Garda Jerry McCabe in an abortive raid in County Limerick in 1996, have been the subject of a hate campaign in the 26-County media, which repeatedly refers to them as the ‘McCabe killers’.
Their legal team secured leave from the High Court last November to each bring judicial review challenges over the refusals of temporary release from January 2004.
The case has been in the High Court list ever since and has been adjourned on a number of occasions to allow the State file its opposition. When the matter was mentioned againthis week, and Mr Eoin McCullough SC, for the State, sought a further adjournment, counsel for the men said it had been adjourned at three-week intervals since December.
Mr McCullough said all the papers would be filed within three weeks. Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill said he would adjourn the matter for three weeks but this was the final adjournment to allow opposition papers be filed.
The four are serving sentences ranging from 11 to 14 years in connection with the attempted robbery of the post office at Adare, Co Limerick on June 7th, 1996 which resulted in the death of Det Garda McCabe.
They are seeking an order quashing the refusals of temporary release. They are also seeking declarations that the repeated refusals of temporary release since January 2004 are capricious, arbitrary and an unjust exercise of the temporary release powers of the Governor and the Minister for Justice.
They also want a declaration that they are entitled to have their requests for temporary release reconsidered.
The men say they have been singled out, in an arbitrary and unjust manner and without any objective justification, for exclusion from proper consideration for temporary release.
In any event, one of the four is to be released from Castlerea on May 17th, having effectively served the full sentence.
Michael O’Neill, from Patrickswell, County Limerick, will by that date have served eight years of his 11-year sentence and will therefore qualify for release under the rules of remission.
Responding to questions in the Dublin parliament today, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Mr O’Neill was legally entitled to remission and the 26-County Prison Service would have no legal basis to continue detaining him after May 17th.