The Border Fox goes free

INLA prisoner Dessie O'Hare has been freed from prison today under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

This was absolutely the right decision. There can be no question that he was a qualifying prisoner. Under the GFA, anyone held in prison for a scheduled offence (or in the 26 Counties, the equivalent thereof), who is allied to an organisation on ceasefire, qualifies for release. O'Hare clearly met this criteria and should have been released long ago.

But by the same token, so should the Castlerea Five. None of the excuses that the Irish Government has given for keeping the remaining four imprisoned stand up. It doesn't matter whether or not the IRA were on ceasefire at the time of the action (although they weren't); nor whether or not the IRA accepted responsibility for the action at the time; nor whether their conviction was obtained before or after the adoption of the GFA. The GFA does not provide for any of these exceptions. The only exception it provides for is if the prisoner's organisation is not on ceasefire. Even the High Court acknowledged this, although it (wrongly, I believe) found that the Government had discretion to refuse to release certain prisoners anyway.

Why was Dessie O'Hare's release delayed for as long as it was? I'm not entirely sure, but I would imagine it was to do with the widely-held view of him as someone who remains dangerous notwithstanding his organisation's ceasefire. I have certainly heard this view expressed by a number of ex-prisoners who knew him. But there are no such concerns about the Castlerea men. Now that O'Hare is out, there can be no excuse for keeping Jerry Sheehy, Michael O'Neill, Pearse McAuley and Kevin Walsh in. They should be released immediately.

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