By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Paramilitary prisoners belonging to the INLA, which ended its 23-year-long campaign of violence last August, are to qualify for early release under the provisions of the Good Friday peace agreement, the Department of Justice has decided.
There are nine INLA men in the Republic’s high-security Portlaoise Prison and 27 in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland.
One of the most high-profile members of the faction-ridden INLA group, Sean "Bap" Hughes, is expected to remain in custody until his trial for the alleged shooting of a Garda.
A Belfastman, Hughes, 40, is on remand accused of the capital murder of unarmed gardai Pat Reynolds, 24, who was shot dead when he confronted armed robbers in Tallaght, Dublin, in February 1982.
Before the shooting, had been wanted for questioning about a bank raid in Askeaton, Co. Limerick, several days earlier when five armed men escaped with £52,100.
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Hughes had left Ireland and went on the run in Britain, the U.S. and on the Continent.
It is understood he is also wanted in Britain for questioning in connection with the attempt to bomb Chelsea Barracks in London on Nov. 11, 1985, when three bombs were defused.
An INLA faction on the run on the Continent linked up with a group called Action Directe, who were blamed for robberies in Italy, Belgium, France and Spain — culminating in a multi-million-dollar robbery in Brest in France.
They then made contact with an American left-wing scriptwriter named Bill Norton who had written the screenplays for "Branigan," starring John Wayne, "Gator," starring Burt Reynolds, and "Dirty Tricks," starring Elliot Gould.
Norton helped the INLA faction to import a load of arms hidden in a camper van via Rotterdam in Holland, Le Havre in France and finally through Rosslare. The shipment, however, fell into the hands of another INLA faction.
A second attempt to bring in arms through the same route — this time hidden in a wooden mobile home, led to the shipment being intercepted in Le Havre in June 1986. It is believed French police had been tipped off by the FBI.
Norton was arrested with four others, including Hughes, who was traveling under an alias as Anthony James MacKenzie with a false passport.
All were convicted, and when Norton was released, he went to live in Nicaragua. He died there in 1992. An attempt to extradite Hughes to Ireland failed in 1988 and he was set free.
Hughes was arrested last year after an attempt to rob a bank in Foxford, Co. Mayo.
Also among the INLA prisoners is Edward Hogan, who was part of the INLA gang that kidnapped dentist John O’Grady in 1988.