By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — New laws to combat intimidation of witnesses in criminal court cases are to be introduced by Justice Minister John O’Donoghue in the wake of the Detective Garda Jerry McCabe murder trial.
The four member IRA gang escaped 40-year sentences for capital murder of McCabe who was escorting a post office cash van in Adare, Co. Limerick, two years ago.
The four pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to between 11 and 14 years by the Special Criminal Court.
O’Donoghue also denied claims by Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness that the four would qualify for early release under the prisoner amnesty section of the Northern Ireland peace agreement.
The Irish government ruled out early release for the four during the final negotiating session of the agreement in Belfast last April.
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"I wonder how many different ways we have to say no for people to get the message that those involved will not get the benefit of the early-release terms," O’Donoghue told the Dail. "There has been clarity from the outset, from the time the Good Friday agreement was negotiated, about this. The position has been made clear by both myself and the Taoiseach on numerous occasions.
"The fact that there will now be manslaughter rather than murder convictions does not alter the government’s stance on this issue one iota."
One witness at the trial of the four men complained about intimidation. Several others could not remember details of statements made to gardai and one man was jailed for 18 months when he refused to testify. He was later released.
The new laws will allow witnesses to give evidence by video link. It will also be made an offense to attempt to trace witnesses who have been relocated as part of the state’s new witness protection program, which is being used as part of the hunt for the killers of journalist Veronica Guerin.
A new offense of witness intimidation will carry a penalty of up to 10 years.