DUBLIN, Ireland: An Irish Republican Army member who killed a police officer walked free on parole from prison Monday, rekindling memories of one of the IRA's most bitterly disputed slayings.
Jeremiah Sheehy, 54, was the second member of an IRA unit to win parole after its killing of Detective Jerry McCabe 12 years ago — a rare event in the Republic of Ireland that inflamed public opinion against the outlawed group.
An accomplice was paroled last year, and two others are expected to be paroled in 2009. They are the final imprisoned members of the Provisional IRA, the dominant IRA faction, which called a cease-fire in 1997 and disarmed in 2005, formally abandoning a failed, decades-old campaign to overthrow Northern Ireland.
All other Provisional IRA convicts received early paroles by 2000 under terms of Northern Ireland's Good Friday peace accord. But the Irish government refused to grant the same benefit to the four men convicted of the McCabe killing, citing its exceptional circumstances.
The IRA forbade its members to shoot security forces in the Republic of Ireland, because the underground organization sought to use the independent south as a safe haven for attacks on the neighboring British territory of Northern Ireland. However, IRA gunmen did regularly rob banks and cash shipments in the Irish Republic.
McCabe, 52, was one of two armed police officers guarding a postal van that contained about $150,000 in the village of Adare in June 1996. The van was delivering money to rural post offices for distribution to state welfare recipients.
Witnesses said the IRA unit rammed the officers' car from behind, then fired assault rifles point-blank at the two officers, who were unable to reach either their weapons. The IRA members fled in a second vehicle without taking any money.
During the four men's 1999 murder trial, two key witnesses — one who housed armed IRA men at his home the night before the attack, the other who permitted the gang to use his home afterward — withdrew their testimony, citing fears of attack.
State prosecutors, who had been seeking minimum 40-year sentences but needed the witnesses to testify, negotiated a plea-bargain manslaughter deal that stunned and angered much of Ireland.
Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked political party, campaigned in vain for years to win early paroles for the McCabe killers. They argued that the men should qualify for the prisoner amnesty contained in the Good Friday pact, but the Irish government rejected this, arguing that the IRA initially denied any involvement in the 1996 attack.Sheehy and a fellow prisoner unsuccessfully sued the government. The Irish Supreme Court in 2006 upheld the government's right to make the men serve their sentences under usual rules