GARDAI yesterday hit out at the decision of Justice Minister John O'Donoghue to release four IRA prisoners jailed for the capital murders of two gardai.
All four will become free men today. They will be let out of Portlaoise jail this morning, a reliable source confirmed early today.
``We are totally opposed to it'', said George Maybury, of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI).
The Garda Representative Association (GRA) said it was outrageous that no conditions would be imposed on the men to make them complete their sentences if they returned to paramilitary activity.
The British government had taken a much tougher line on the release of paramilitary prisoners, putting in conditions which ensured they could be returned to prison if they resumed subversive activities, said GRA general secretary PJ Stone.
``The crocodile tears of our politicians when they play `The Last Post' at the funerals of gardai aren't worth very much,'' he said. ``Much tougher conditions should have been imposed so that if the peace process collapses these people won't be able to go back to their old activities.''
Their release was ``extremely unfortunate'' and the GRA extended their sympathies to families of the murdered gardai, Mr Stone said.
The men qualified for early release under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The minister had written to the families of the two gardai advising them that a decision on the release of those convicted of the murders was imminent.
One of the four is Belfast man Peter Rogers who was convicted of the murder of Det Garda Seamus Quaid in Wexford in 1980.
Garda Quaid, a father of four, was shot when he and another officer searched a van driven by Rogers and found it to contain bomb-making materials.
The other three men were convicted of the murder of Det Garda Frank Hand in 1984 during a post office raid in Drumree, Co Meath.
Those convicted of his murder were Patrick McPhillips, Thomas Eccles and Brian McShane.
Mr Maybury, of the AGSI, said they had been guaranteed that all the men convicted of the capital murder of gardai would serve their full terms.
``We are concerned for the families of the murdered gardai and we are also concerned that these releases will set a precedent,'' he added.
He said they had made their views known to the minister.
Earlier this year, a group of 10 relatives of the murdered gardai were granted a meeting about prisoner releases with the minister after the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.
Garda Hand's brother, Michael, said his family were very upset by the impending release.
Meanwhile, relatives of the victims of the 1993 Shankill Road bombing, in which nine people died, have expressed anger that the IRA man responsible will be released for Christmas.
The no-warning bomb exploded on a busy Saturday afternoon in a shopping area as the IRA attempted to kill a loyalist paramilitary leader they believed was attending a meeting in an upstairs room.
Bomber Sean Kelly has already been given a final release date by the Sentences Review Commission as part of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and as a result is eligible for the five-day Christmas parole.
But Gina Murray, who lost her daughter Leanne (13) in the blast, yesterday expressed horror at the prospect of Kelly's release.
Mrs Murray pledged to do everything she could to block his parole.
As more than 200 terrorist prisoners have been released as part of the Good Friday Agreement less than 100 inmates will remain in the Maze jail over Christmas the smallest number since the mid-70s.