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British officials ‘perplexed’ by Irish McCabe stance

British officials claimed to be “perplexed” by the Irish government’s insistence that the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe would not be released from prison under the Good Friday Agreement.

They worried that Dublin’s approach would imply that the life of a garda was being “valued differently from that of a British policeman or a member of the RUC”.

Early release for paramilitary prisoners was one of the key provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.

However the Irish Government made clear, before and after the agreement was signed, that it would not apply to the killers of Det Gda McCabe, who were then awaiting trial.

Det Gda McCabe was killed, and his colleague Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan was seriously injured, during the robbery of a post office van in Adare, Co Limerick in June 1996.

The issue was raised at a meeting of senior Irish and British officials in May 1998, with Bill Jeffrey of the Northern Ireland Office saying the British were “perplexed” at Dublin’s position.

The Irish officials pointed out that the Adare robbery was apparently unauthorised by the IRA, and therefore early release would not apply.

Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan pictured in 2016

The British side stressed the need for their legislation on prisoner release to “be clearly based on uniform principles. Pointed questions would undoubtedly be asked if there seemed to be contradictions between the British and Irish situations. There could be no question of the life of a garda seeming to be valued differently from that of a British policeman or a member of the RUC.”

In reply, senior advisor to Bertie Ahern, Martin Mansergh, said the Taoiseach was well aware of the “wider ramifications” of the case, and suggested the two sides should stay in touch on the issue.

The issue was also raised with the Irish Embassy in London by Helen Jackson MP, Private Parliamentary Secretary to Mo Mowlam.

She expressed “concern that if individuals are convicted of the murder of Garda McCabe, and a stand of principle is maintained on our side regarding their non-release, it could complicate Dr Mowlam’s dealings with the RUC and the Northern Ireland Prison Service…”

Despite these expressions of concern, the Irish government refused to alter its position.

Four men – Pearse McAuley, Jeremiah Sheehy, Michael O’Neill and Kevin Walsh – were convicted by the Special Criminal Court in February 1999 after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

O’Neill was released from prison in May 2007, Sheehy in February 2008, and McAuley and Walsh in August 2009, after serving their full sentences.

[Based on documents in 2022/45/96 and 2022/45/423]

By David McCullagh and Shane McElhatton

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