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Probe demanded over garda killer's move to open jail

JUSTICE Minister Alan Shatter was under intense pressure today to explain how garda killer Martin McDermott was serving his sentence in an open prison.

As arrangements were being made for the early return of the short-term fugitive -- who was arrested yesterday in Derry -- a garda leader called for legislation to increase jail sentences for those who kill or injure gardai during the course of a criminal act.

The PSNI last night charged McDermott with criminal damage, three counts of assault on police, resisting arrest and disorderly behaviour.

The 26-year-old was just eight months into his seven-year sentence for the killing of Garda Gary McLoughlin, whose patrol car he rammed in 2009.

McDermott was transferred from the Midlands closed prison in Portlaoise to to the low security Loughan House just 12 days before he walked out.

The Minister -- who is in Australia for St Patrick's Day celebrations -- expressed his concern regarding his presence in and escape from Loughan House, Blacklion, on the Cavan-Fermanagh border. It is very different to the prison conditions which apply in a closed prison such as Mountjoy.

President of the Garda Representative Association Damien McCarthy welcomed the announcement of an investigation but said specific questions had to be asked. His members wondered if this escape had not taken place, would the public ever have known where McDermott was serving his sentence.

He said proper protocols were not followed and this was an issue for the Irish Prison Service and had to be brought into the public domain.

Permitting someone serving a seven-year sentence for killing a garda to move to an open prison after eight months was "disgraceful".

He added that the people who were responsible for making the decisions in this case should be made accountable.

The Irish Prison Service and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence said they regretted "any upset or distress caused to the family and colleagues" of Garda McLoughlin.