THE killer of Garda Seamus Quaid in Wexford in 1980 last night broke his 34-year silence to publicly accuse Sinn Fein leaders Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams of insensitivity over holding their party's ard feis in Wexford.
Peter Rogers, who served 18 years of a life sentence for the murder, apologised to Garda Quaid's family on his release from prison in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
He said last night he was deeply sorry for what happened to Garda Quaid and to his colleague Garda Donal Lyttleton, who was present at a confrontation at Cleariestown in south Wexford in 1980.
Rogers said he was transporting explosives when he was stopped by the two gardai. In the confrontation he and Garda Quaid exchanged shots and Rogers was hit in the foot.
He told the Sunday Independent last night that he felt forced to speak out because of what he saw as the insensitivity of holding the Sinn Fein ard fheis at the Wexford Opera House, where a plaque commemorating Garda Quaid had been erected in 2008 on the anniversary of his murder. Garda Quaid's family asked for the plaque to be removed in advance of the ard fheis.
Rogers said he welcomed Martin McGuinness's apology to the Quaid family but said they should not have held the ard fheis in Wexford.
"I apologised to the family of Garda Quaid on my release and I also wrote to the Justice Department in Dublin to say I would no longer wish to live in Wexford because I did not want the family to know I was back living there."
Rogers also told how he was beaten up by a well-known senior republican after news of his apology had become known throughout Sinn Fein.
"It is insensitive of Sinn Fein to hold their ard fheis in Wexford and bring this back to the family. I welcome Martin McGuinness's apology."
But he added that he was personally affronted by Gerry Adams's claim he was never in the IRA and Martin McGuinness's claim that he had left the IRA by the time Garda Quaid was murdered.
Peter Rogers was caught after gardai caught up with him hiding in a house not far from the murder scene. One of the shots fired by Garda Quaid had struck him in the foot.
He refused to say how he was transporting explosives to England at the time but Garda sources say he was doing so through Rosslare Port. Rogers had moved to Wexford after escaping from a British internment ship, the Maidstone, which was berthed in Belfast Harbour in 1972.
He married and had a son in Wexford. He said when he returns to Wexford "to visit loved ones" he does so anonymously so as not to cause affront to the Quaid family. He now lives on his own in Northern Ireland.
Speaking after the Quaid family asked for the removal of the plaque, Martin McGuinness said: "It's absolutely appropriate that republicans should apologise for what happened to him – and apologise directly to his family."
While the Sunday Independent contacted several Sinn Fein press officers at the Ard Fheis last night, a spokesman for the party said he was unable to contact either Mr Adams or Mr McGuinness.