The British authorities have dropped plans to extradite four Provisional IRA Volunteers, including two who famously escaped from London’s Brixton prison 18 years ago, it has been revealed.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said on Wednesday it was no longer preparing a case against Pearse McCauley, from Strabane, County Tyrone -- freed from Castlerea jail on Wednesday -- and Limerick man Nessan Quinlivan.

The pair launched the audacious jail-break in July 1991 using a small gun smuggled into jail inside a hollowed-out shoe.

The Crown also said it was also no longer seeking Andrew Martin and Anthony Duncan, two other Provisional IRA Volunteers who had been considered OTRs -- ‘on the run’ from prosecution.

In an unusual statement, the CPS said: “Having reviewed these cases, the CPS has decided there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction.”

The British officials said they had considered statements made by ministers about ‘on the runs’, the length of time since the IRA actions took place, as well as the lack of evidence.

Sinn Fein welcomed the decision to lift the extradition warrants.

Kerry North TD Martin Ferris said: “Sinn Fein welcomes the decision by the British Attorney General to waive the warrants in these cases and to stop any extradition proceedings.

“This will be a relief to the men and their families.”

Jeffery Donaldson of the DUP blamed his former Ulster Unionist colleagues for the move.

“These terrorist criminals who shot their way out of Brixton Prison are now enjoying the benefits of policies enacted by David Trimble and Reg Empey.

“Thanks to the Belfast Agreement, which the UUP negotiated and implemented, terrorists were released from prison and even if these men were extradited and convicted it is likely that they would never serve a day in jail.”

The CPS announcement came as Mr McAuley was released from Casterea prison on Wednesday. He had completed the full term of a 14-year sentence in relation to an IRA action he was involved in while on the run.

In 1996, McCauley took part in an abortive ‘fund-raising’ raid on a post office in Adare, County Limerick which resulted in the death of a member of the 26-County Garda police.

Amid difficult peace negotiations in the North, the shooting became the focus of an intense political campaign to increase pressure on the republican movement. The Four IRA members who were convicted of his manslaughter are still frequently referred to in the 26-County media as “the McCabe killers”.

The hate campaign led to the Dublin government breaching the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement when it uniquely refused to release the men from prison under the early release scheme.

A media circus again threatened to descend on Castlerea prison for the release of Mr McCauley and fellow IRA man Kevin Walsh this week. The men were bizzarely pursued by tabloid media photographers for some distance through the Roscommon countryside.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the two men should have been granted early release.

“In a public statement some years ago, the IRA members convicted in relation to Jerry McCabe’s death and the wounding of Garda Ben O’Sullivan expressed their deep regret and apologised for the ‘hurt and grief we have caused to their families’,” the West Belfast MP said.

“I believe that this apology was genuine and it echoes the sentiments of republicans everywhere.

“I deeply regret the great loss and hurt suffered by the McCabe and O’Sullivan families.

“The release of Kevin Walsh and Pearse McCauley comes at the end of their sentences, despite them being qualifying IRA prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement.”

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© 2009 Irish Republican News