GOVERNMENT Ministers have stepped up their efforts to pave the way for the transfer of seven IRA prisoners from British jails to Portlaoise before Christmas.GOVERNMENT Ministers have stepped up their efforts to pave the way for the transfer of seven IRA prisoners from British jails to Portlaoise before Christmas.
The transfer of the seven was initially planned for Tuesday next but last night it appeared that British officials were concerned about a number of minor regulations which could delay the move for several days.
Security sources admitted last night that hopes for a pre-Christmas transfer had receded slightly but Ministers here were still attempting to overcome the obstacles creating concern on the British side.
Also last night, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last night began to exert public pressure on British Premier Tony Blair for loyalist prisoner releases to complement those of IRA men in the Republic.
With nine IRA prisoners let out of Portlaoise three days ago, the Taoiseach said that he advocated an active, enlightened and ``fully impartial attitude'' by both Governments on the issue of politically-motivated prisoners.
The move to bring back IRA mean follows the transfer on Thursday of long-term IRA prisoner, Vincent Donnelly, and the early release yesterday of nine IRA men eight from Portlaoise jail and one from the training unit attached to the Mountjoy complex in Dublin.
Five of the seven awaiting transfer were sentenced to 35 years last July for being part of an IRA unit sent to London to blitz power stations and paralyse the British capital.
They are Donal Gannon (35), from Dublin; Eoin Morrow (39) from Dundalk; Francis Rafferty (45), from Belfast but with an address in Dublin; former US marine John Crawley (40) with an address in Dublin; and Gerard Hanratty (38), native of Belfast but also living in Dublin.
The other applications are from Liam O'Dwyer, from Castleknock, Dublin, who was caught with an IRA dump in Pembrokeshire, and Peter Sherry, Monaghan, jailed for planning explosions.
Their transfers have been held up pending the introduction of new legislation, which came into force on Thursday, ensuring that a transferred prisoner must serve the sentence laid down by the State where he was convicted unless an application is made to the courts by the Minister for Justice.
FIRST MAN OUT
Meanwhile, the first of the transferred prisoners to be released as part of the peace process was set free from the Training Unit yesterday morning. He is Brendan Dowd, of Tralee, who was sent back here from an English prison last year and had been serving three life sentences, imposed in 1976, for conspiracy to murder, and cause explosions and for the attempted murder of a policeman.
Those let out early from Portlaoise included former Aer Lingus engineer, Peter Eamon Maguire, from Clondalkin, Co Dublin, jailed in 1994 for his part in a plot to import surface to air missiles from the US; and Senator Billy Fox's killer, Sean Kinsella, from Clones, Co Monaghan, sentenced to life imprisonment in 1974.
Also on the list were John Moyna, Scotstown, Co Monaghan, (7 years for possession of a ``barrack buster'' mortar in 1993); Andrew Gillespie, jnr., Ballybofey, Co Donegal (12 years in 1994 for possession of 1,000lbs of homemade explosive); Patrick Murphy, Athboy, Co Meath.
The other two released prisoners were Conor O'Neill and James Hughes.