Sinn Féin complained of “excessive” policing in the aftermath of the killing of Det Garda Jerry McCabe, and claimed republicans were being harassed at the time, newly-released files show.
Det Garda McCabe was killed and his colleague Det Garda Ben O’Sullivan was seriously injured on June 7th, 1996, during a raid by IRA members on an An Post van in Adare, Co Limerick. Four men, Pearse McAuley, Jeremiah Sheehy, Michael O’Neill and Kevin Walsh, were later convicted of the manslaughter of Garda McCabe.
The killing of Garda McCabe, which caused outrage in the Republic, occurred between the end of the first IRA ceasefire in February 1996, and the last and final ceasefire in July 1997.
At a meeting at Government Buildings a month after the last ceasefire Sinn Féin vice-president Pat Doherty raised “the continuous harassment” of republicans by the Garda.
According to Simon Hare, an official in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Doherty was “totally aware of the strength of feeling arising from the killing of Garda McCabe, but even allowing for that, the level of arrests and raids – for no particular reason – in that area was excessive”.
“He emphasised the need to create a sense that (with the ceasefire) we were in a new era. He also suggested that there was a feeling in some quarters that the gardaí were deliberately putting it up to republicans in the six weeks in which the ceasefire was to be judged.”
The harassment included charging a lot of republicans with IRA membership to “threaten and intimidate people”, Doherty suggested.
Rita O’Hare, who was the other senior Sinn Féin official in the delegation, said republicans in the South were being told that files on them were being sent to the DPP.
Doherty also raised the case of Seán Kinsella who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Senator Billy Fox in March 1974. He was jailed on June 7th that year, but escaped from Portlaoise Prison on August 18th of that year, along with 19 other republican prisoners.
He was arrested 11 months later in Liverpool and given a 20-year life term for arms and explosive charges in 1975. A police officer was shot and badly injured during the operation against an IRA unit in the city.
Doherty said Kinsella had been back living in Ireland openly and signing on when he was rearrested “out of the blue” on the back of a newspaper article – an Irishman’s Diary written by Kevin Myers in The Irish Times on June 24th, 1996 – inquiring as to whether Kinsella had been returned to lawful custody to serve his sentence in relation to the Fox killing.
The delegation agreed that the case of Kinsella and other IRA prisoners would be dealt with by the Sinn Féin representatives dealing with IRA prisoner releases in the Republic.
The case of Det Garda McCabe also surfaces in files released in Belfast this week. In a ministerial meeting in February 1999, the Northern Ireland security minister Adam Ingram said he would be seeking clarification from the Irish government about comments made by taoiseach Bertie Ahern regarding the four IRA members convicted of the killing.
The decision by the prosecution to drop charges from murder to manslaughter had prompted public criticism, to which Ahern responded by insisting Garda McCabe’s killers would not benefit from early release under the Belfast Agreement.
In the minutes of the meeting Ingram said he did not believe the Irish government “could put continuing pressure on the British government with regard to prisoner releases while at the same time adopting a differing stance themselves”. The issue was to be added to a list of items for discussion between Ahern and British prime minister Tony Blair at their next meeting.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams later stated that the robbery had not been authorised by the IRA Army Council, but instead by someone lower down the IRA’s ranks.
The files in Dublin also show earlier complaints from Sinn Féin about Garda operations. In February 1995, Adams said Garda harassment had “increased significantly” since the Rainbow Coalition led by John Bruton took office in December 1994.
Adams said the harassment of republicans by the Garda and Special Branch was putting him under “considerable personal pressure” – the IRA was then on its first ceasefire. Adams’ concerns are contained in a note from Paddy Teahon, the secretary of the Department of Taoiseach, to Bruton.
Teahon told the taoiseach that Sinn Féin had raised the issue of harassment six times since he had first got in touch with them. Teahon noted that Tim Dalton, the secretary of the Department of Justice, intended to raise the issue with the Garda commissioner Patrick Culligan.