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Friday, February 5, 1999 Published at 13:41 GMT


IRA killers jailed

Pearse McAuley: 14 years for manslaughter

Four IRA men have been jailed for shooting an Irish police officer amid uproar over the handling of the case and speculation that they may not serve their full sentence.


The BBC's Leo Enright: The case has caused outrage
IRA jail-breaker Pearse McAuley was among four men jailed for between 11 and 14 years for shooting dead Detective Gerry McCabe, 52, two years ago.

The case at Dublin's Special Criminal Court erupted in controversy on Wednesday when the men pleaded guilty to manslaughter as a prosecution for capital murder was undermined by witness intimidation.


Jim Higgins, Justice spokesman for Fine Gael: "This was one of the things we feared"
Police regarded the reduced charge as an act of "pragmatism" but political groups are now calling for a full debate in the Irish parliament. Fine Gael described the sentences as "totally inadequate".

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said afterwards he considered the men murderers and critics have said the new charge suggests the men did not intend to kill Det McCabe.

Sinn Fein official Martin McGuinness provoked further controversy by saying the men will serve reduced jail terms under the early release scheme in the Good Friday Agreement.

But Mr Ahern has said the men will serve their full term. Opposition leaders are seeking "clarification" on the issue.

Jail terms

McAuley and Kevin Walsh received 14 years each, Michael O'Neill received 11 years and Jeremiah Sheehy 12 years, all for the manslaughter of Det McCabe.

He was shot with 14 bullets during a bungled IRA robbery in County Limerick, prompting shock in a country where police killings are rare.

The four also received concurrent terms over charges of maliciously wounding Det McCabe's colleague, Detective Ben O'Sullivan.

A fifth man, John Quinn, was jailed for six years for conspiring to commit robbery.

The judge presiding over the non-jury court, Mr Justice Richard Johnson, criticised the furore surrounding the reduction of the charges.

He said that public comments served neither the interests of the law as it stood or justice.

The Republic of Ireland's most senior police officer Commissioner Patrick Byrne earlier said that intimidation of witnesses and fears that the murder case could not be proved led to the plea change.

He said there had been "a very major investigation and we had difficulty with some witnesses in relation to being available to give evidence".

At least one witness is known to have been intimidated.

Det McCabe's widow, Ann, showed no bitterness after the case, thanking the police for securing the conviction.

But members of the Irish Garda Representative Association were said to be "infuriated" at the moves that led to the reduced charge.

Prisoner release

The court made it clear that the four men would not benefit from the prisoner amnesties under the peace deal.

But Mr McGuinness said on Friday the men will win reductions in their jail terms.

"All I can say is that very clearly our party's leadership spoke to both the British and the Irish Governments about the need to release all prisoners imprisoned as a result of the conflict," he said.

"I certainly think these men will qualify."

Extradition

Last December, a Dublin court ordered McAuley, 32, to be extradited to the UK. He was ordered to be held in custody in Ireland until his trial for the death of Det McCabe.

McAuley is wanted in Britain on charges of conspiring to murder former brewery chairman Sir Charles Tidbury and to cause explosions in Britain in November 1990.

In 1991, he and Nessan Quinlivan shot their way out London's Brixton prison while awaiting trial on charges of planning IRA assassinations and bombings.



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