Early releases of IRA prisoners continue


Another IRA man convicted of the capital murder of a garda is expected to be released today after three prisoners serving life sentences were freed from Portlaoise Prison yesterday.

Patrick McPhillips, convicted of the murder of Det Garda Frank Hand at Drumree, Co Meath, in 1984 is expected to be released in Dublin later today.

Meanwhile, more than 170 paramilitary prisoners in the North will be released on Christmas parole in the next few days and spend the holiday with their families. They will return to jail in the new year.

The IRA's "officer commanding" women prisoners in Magha berry Prison, Co Antrim, was released yesterday under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

She was the Provisionals' last woman prisoner in the North.

Ms Geraldine Ferrity (27), an auxiliary nurse from Omagh, Co Tyrone, served eight years of a life sentence for murder.

In 1990, she drove a booby-trapped car into a Cookstown garage.

A part-time Ulster Defence Regiment sergeant, Mr Albert Cooper, was killed when he sat in the vehicle, triggering the bomb under the seat.

At her trial, the judge said she had handed her victim "the keys to oblivion".

Mr Martin Meehan, of the republican prisoners' group Saoirse, said he was absolutely delighted she had been freed.

A total of 229 prisoners have been released under the agreement.

The release of the three IRA prisoners serving sentences for the capital murder of two gardai went ahead quietly yesterday at Portlaoise.

All had served less than half of their 40-year sentences for the murders.

They were released at 5.30 a.m. long before photographers and reporters had gathered at the gates of the high-security prison on the Dublin Road outside the town.

Mr Peter Rodgers, Mr Thomas Eccles and Mr Brian McShane were ushered out of the Victorian prison complex at a gate not normally used by the public.

Mr Rodgers had been serving 40 years for the murder of Det Garda Seamus Quaid in Wexford in 1980.

Mr Eccles and Mr McShane were convicted of the murder of Det Garda Hand.

They were driven in a prison van to the car-park adjoining the main gate where they were met by family and friends.

The pre-dawn release, under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, contrasted sharply with other IRA releases when the prisoners were met by high-profile Sinn Fein members.

The announcement of their release provoked an outcry from the families and representatives of the victims.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, had been forced to defend policy as part of the overall peace settlement, with similar releases taking place from jails in the North.