Ferris greets garda's killers as they step out to freedom
Officers tell of 'painful memories' at release
GARDA killers Pearse McAuley and Kevin Walsh were back in the arms of their families within minutes of being freed from Castlerea prison yesterday, after they were greeted by Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris.
Both families and Mr Ferris had travelled to Co Roscommon and were waiting nearby to greet the two men after they completed their ten-and-a-half- year terms for the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe.
Mr Ferris and two other men travelled in a Ford Transit van to collect McAuley and Walsh from the gates of the prison just after 7am, rather than have their two families in the glare of media attention.
The freed pair were quickly whisked away for a reunion and their first breakfast together since they were jailed in February 1999.
Last night Det Garda McCabe's family did not wish to comment on the men's release. His wife, Ann, said they wanted to draw a line under the matter and would not be making a statement.
Mr Ferris defended his appearance at the gates of Castlerea prison to collect the two men.
"I was there because I have been the spokesperson for the IRA prisoners and they were IRA prisoners," he said.
He pointed out that as spokesperson for the prisoners, he had been involved in negotiations about the conditions under which the men served, their sentences, and also in respect of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Ferris insisted both men were qualifying prisoners under the terms of the agreement.
He also endorsed the statement of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams pointing out that both Pearse McAuley and Kevin Walsh had, some years ago, expressed their "deep regret and apologised" for the hurt and grief caused to the McCabe and O'Sullivan families.
Mr Adams said in his statement that he believed the apology was genuine and echoed the sentiments of republicans everywhere. Asked about the circumstances surrounding the release and collection of the two men from the gates of Castlerea early yesterday morning, Mr Ferris said the two men wanted to keep the situation as low-key as possible.
"They didn't want to cause any more pain to the McCabe or O'Sullivan families," he said.
On the men's plans, Mr Ferris said: "We took them to their families who were waiting in the general area. I assume they will want to spend some time
together. They have both been away from their families for nearly 13 years and now that they are back with them, there will obviously be a period of adjustment".
Later, Mr Ferris also welcomed the decision of the British attorney general to drop extradition proceedings against Pearse McAuley and three other republicans in respect of alleged serious offences in the UK.
Meanwhile, gardai in Limerick said the release of Gerry McCabe's killers brought back painful memories of their slain colleague's brutal death.
A spokesman for officers in the city said gardai were last night reflecting on how he had paid the ultimate price.
"It brings into focus the fact that gardai in performing their duties do put themselves on the frontline and do put their lives in danger," Limerick GRA spokesman Gda Paul Browne said.