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Wednesday, April 15, 1998 Published at 05:43 GMT 06:43 UK

Dublin frees nine IRA inmates
image: [ The peace deal provides for the early release of prisoners ]
The peace deal provides for the early release of prisoners

The Irish government has freed nine IRA prisoners in an attempt to boost the Northern Ireland peace accord.

The early release of the men, including some jailed for serious terrorist crimes, is being seen as an official bid to aid Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. He wants support at this weekend's annual Sinn Fein conference in Dublin after signing up to the political settlement at Stormont last Friday.

BBC correspondent, Tom Coulter says the men were not in prison for murder
Sinn Fein leaders face criticism, both internally and from other hardline republican groups, for their approval of the multi-party deal.

The prison development, described as a "goodwill gesture" by Irish Government sources, coincided with a secret meeting of Sinn Fein's Ard Comhairle - ruling executive - to consider the settlement agreed at Stormont last Friday.

BBC correspondent, Shane Harrison, talks to BBC News 24 about the prissoners
The prisoners set free from the top-security Portlaoise jail, 50 miles from Dublin, included Tony Heaney, 43, from Londonderry, who was not due to have been released from a sentenced for arms possession until the year 2005.

Others, though, would have been allowed out under normal circumstances within the next 18 months. Some had to return to the jail on Tuesday night after Easter weekend parole to be formally released.

The releases were the first to get the go-ahead from Dublin since last December, when nine men were freed early to encourage progress in the then on-going multi-party negotiations.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern says if the current ceasefires hold, all paramilitary prisoners will be freed in the next two years.

A total of more than 40 IRA prisoners are still in Portlaoise, either serving sentences, or on remand awaiting trial.

The other released IRA men were named as: Patrick Kavanagh, due to have been freed in 2001; Noel Magee, 2004; Patrick Morgan, 1999; Paul Murray, 2001; Patrick McCartney, 2001; Chris O'Donnell, 1999; Bernard O'Hagan, 2001; and Hugh Wilkinson, 2001.

The were jailed for firearms and possession of explosives offences. Kavanagh, Murray, McCartney, O'Hagan and Wilkinson were all sentenced after being arrested at an IRA training camp in Co Donegal four years ago.

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