Man jailed for garda's killing seeks release under NI deal

 

One of the four men jailed for the manslaughter of Det Garda Jerry McCabe in Adare, Co Limerick, in June 1996 has taken High Court proceedings seeking a declaration that he is entitled to be released under the provisions of the Belfast Agreement.

Another man serving a six year sentence for conspiracy to commit a robbery in Adare in June 1996 is seeking a similar declaration.

Michael O'Neill, now detained at Castlerea Prison, was convicted in February 1999 of the manslaughter of Det Garda McCabe, the malicious wounding of Det Garda Ben O'Sullivan, and possession of firearms for the purpose of a robbery at Adare on June 7th, 1966.

He was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment and to two concurrent terms of five years respectively.

John Quinn, a carpenter and joiner, also with an address at Castlerea Prison, was convicted in February 1999 of conspiracy to commit a robbery at Adare in June 1996. He was sentenced to six years' imprisonment.

On the application of Dr Michael Forde SC, for the two prisoners, Mr Justice Butler yesterday gave leave to both men to seek a number of declarations by way of judicial review.

The proceedings are against the governor of Castlerea Prison, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and the Government.

Among the declarations being sought is one that the two are "qualifying prisoners" for early release under the terms of the Belfast Agreement of April, 1998 and/or the Criminal Justice (Release of Prisoners) Act, 1998. They also want declarations that they are entitled to be released under the provisions of the agreement and the Act.

In an affidavit, Mr Michael Farrell, solicitor for the two, said both had received only short periods of temporary release of a few days each.

He was informed by the men and believed they were not affiliated to any organisation which had not established or was not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire. From documentation received from the Minister, he believed the Minister did not appear to have sought to dispute that proposition, Mr Farrell added.

Mr Farrell said he had made inquiries from Mr Barra McGrory, a practising solicitor in Northern Ireland and who represented many prisoners who had been released under the Belfast Agreement. He was informed by Mr McGrory and believed the offences of which the applicants were convicted were similar offences to scheduled offences in Northern Ireland as referred to in the agreement.

The Belfast Agreement was enacted on July 13th, 1998. The Act envisaged a two-year period for release of prisoners, expiring in July 2000. On May 5th, 2000, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, and the British Prime Minister, Mr Blair, stated it was intended all remaining qualifying prisoners would be released by July 2000.

Virtually all other prisoners detained within this jurisdiction and who came within the definition of qualifying prisoners had been recognised as such by the Minister and had had their cases referred to a commission, Mr Farrell said. Virtually all other qualifying prisoners, whether imprisoned in this State or in the UK, had been released under the agreement.

That included a number of prisoners convicted within the State and the UK of comparable offences to those of which O'Neill and Quinn had been convicted, he said.

The Minister had afforded at least one other prisoner, Henry Doherty, who was detained in Portlaoise jail and who was not recognised as a qualifying prisoner, an opportunity to be informed of, and to contest the reasons for, the failure to accord him such recognition.