Two garda killers who faced death penalty have been freed from prison

Noel Callan

A garda car at the scene where Gda John Morley and Gda Henry Byrne were shot dead in 1980

Gda John Morley

Gda Henry Byrne

thumbnail: Noel Callan
thumbnail: A garda car at the scene where Gda John Morley and Gda Henry Byrne were shot dead in 1980
thumbnail: Gda John Morley
thumbnail: Gda Henry Byrne
Tom Brady

TWO garda killers who were originally sentenced to death have been quietly freed from jail.

Colm O'Shea, of Sunday's Well, Cork; and Patrick McCann, of Dungarvan, Co Waterford, were sentenced to death by hanging in November 1980.

They were both convicted of the capital murder of former Mayo county footballer, Det Garda John Morley and Garda Henry Byrne, on July 7, 1980, at Aghaderry, Loughglynn, Co Roscommon.

The death sentence was later commuted to 40 years' imprisonment and the republicans were expected to serve the full term behind bars.

But last July, the Supreme Court ruled that a prisoner serving 40 years for capital murder was entitled to the normal remission on his sentence if he met the conditions applied to other inmates.

As a result, the prison authorities found that both O'Shea and McCann had already served the required 30-year term in jail and they were released shortly afterwards -- but details of their release have not become public until now.

The case in the Supreme Court was brought by another convicted garda killer, Noel Callan, who was one of two men convicted of the capital murder of Sgt Patrick Morrissey at Tallanstown, Co Louth, in June 1985. Callan and his co-accused Michael McHugh, who fired the fatal shot, have been in jail since June 1985 -- more than 28 years.

They were the last two men to be sentenced to death in Ireland. The death sentence was commuted six months later to 40 years' penal servitude by then President Patrick Hillery.

When Callan challenged the refusal to consider him for an earlier release for good behaviour, the State argued that he was not serving a sentence and was not entitled to remission as he was serving a "commutation".

But this and other claims by the State were rejected by the five-judge court as a "nonsense"; and as a "model prisoner", Callan was entitled to be considered for remission.

Callan, from Castleblayney, Co Monaghan; and McHugh, from Crossmaglen, south Armagh, are now expected to be released before the end of 2015.

The murder of Sgt Morrissey, who earlier this year was posthumously awarded the "freedom" of Drogheda for his sacrifice on behalf of the community, shocked the nation and also led to calls to arm the garda force.

The unarmed garda was shot dead by McHugh as he lay helpless on the ground after being earlier shot in the leg.

He had pursued the two raiders to Tallanstown after they had held up the labour exchange in Ardee and made off with £25,000. All four capital murderers served their sentences in the republican wing at the top security Portlaoise jail.

Det Gda Morley (37) and Garda Byrne (29) were shot dead while investigating an armed raid on the Bank of Ireland branch at Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon.

The two gardai were shot in their patrol car when they tried to block the escape route of the raiders after they had taken £35,000 from the bank.

The July ruling by the Supreme Court granting remission to capital murderers led the general secretary of the Garda Representative Association, P J Stone, to criticise the State.

He told the Irish Independent: "Yet again, the State has failed to properly protect the gardai and others who risk their lives in the line of duty."