By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The release of the first of the IRA men serving capital sentences for killing members of the Garda is imminent, a murdered detective’s family claimed they were told by senior officers who visited them last week.
Four Provisional IRA men being held in Portlaoise prison for killing gardai qualify for early release under the terms of the Northern Ireland peace agreement.
Angela Quaid-Sheehan, a sister of murdered Detective-Garda Seamus Quaid, told RTE that a chief superintendent and a colleague visited Quaid’s son Eamon last week to inform him his father’s killer, Peter Rogers, was about to be released.
The freeing of gardai killers will be the most controversial of the prisoner releases. Garda representative body spokesman and leading politicians like former Justice Minister and PD leader Des O’Malley have strongly objected.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said Rogers’s case was before a three-man Prisoner Release Committee for review.
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"The visit to the family was made in line with a commitment by the minister when he met relatives earlier this year that they would be kept advised of developments," the spokesman said. "No decision has yet been taken. The Rogers case is still being considered in the context of the multi-party agreement in Northern Ireland."
Three IRA men from the border town of Dundalk who were convicted of the capital murder of Detective Garda Frank Hand, 27, following a post office van robbery in August 1984, also qualify for release, but their cases are not under review, the spokesman said.
Quaid-Sheehan said there was no more grave an offense than shooting an officer.
"These four prisoners should be the last out the gates," she said, adding that Quaid’s widow, Olive, is still devastated by the murder.
"The price for peace is very high for the Quaid family," she said. "I can’t understand why the rush is to let them out now when the IRA have stated there is going to be no decommissioning.
"Why should the murderers of Gardai be released now when there isn’t one gun handed over? Up to now I thought and hoped that these prisoners would be kept until as near to the two years as possible."
Rogers, from Duncormick, Co. Wexford, was sentenced to death for shooting Quaid, 43, on Oct. 13, 1980.
The sentence was subsequently commuted to 40 years.
Quaid and a colleague stopped Rogers in a quarry in Wexford. He was carrying explosives in his van.
Quaid was shot as he went to search the van. Quaid fired six shots before he died and hit Rogers in the leg. Rogers was arrested the day after the killing.