By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The early release on Tuesday and Wednesday of four IRA prisoners serving 40 years for the capital murder of Gardai has caused widespread anger in the force and devastated the families of the dead men.
The freeing of the four after serving less than half their sentences was strongly criticized by both the representative association for the Garda rank and file and the sergeants and inspectors’ body.
Special Christmas parole of between three and 10 days was also granted for most of the remaining 30 IRA prisoners in Portlaoise Prison and for about 175 republican and loyalist prisoners in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland.
The release of the four Garda murderers are the first in the Republic though many found guilty of killing RUC officers have already been released in Northern Ireland as part of the peace process.
Defending the releases, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said it was now up to the IRA and other paramilitaries to start decommissioning arms and explosives.
He said the prisoner releases were a very important part of the Good Friday peace agreement and the governments in turn expected "others to meet all their commitments" under the agreement.
Belfastman Peter Rogers had been sentenced to death when he was convicted of the murder Detective Garda Seamus Quaid, 43, in Wexford in October 1980. The sentence was later commuted to 40 years when the death penalty was abolished.
Thomas Eccles, Patrick McPhillips and Brian McShane were convicted of the murder of Detective Garda Frank Hand at Drumree, Co. Meath, following a post office robbery in August 1994.
The Department of Justice had said last week that the cases of the three killers of Hand were not being considered for release.
A spokesman for the Department said Minister John O’Donoghue had told the families of the dead gardai in advance the releases were imminent.
Garda Representative Association general secretary P.J. Stone said long jail sentences were necessary as a deterrent in a situation where the force was largely unarmed.
"We are left without protection now," he said. "Obviously the crocodile tears of politicians of all shades flow very easily at the graves of my colleagues when they play the Last Post."
George Maybury of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors said they were totally opposed to the releases and had made their views well known to the minister.
Angela Quaid Sheehan, a sister of Garda Quaid, said the family were "numbed" and that the releases were coming at a time when no guns had been handed over by the IRA.
Quaid’s son Eamonn, 32, who was 14 when his father was killed, said that Christmas was already a difficult time for his family and this made it worse. It was like another bereavement.