The timing of the releases, just two weeks before the first anniversary of the IRA ceasefire, reflects the importance attached by Dublin to showing sceptical hard-line republicans that the peace process is bringing tangible benefits to their community, despite the absence of movement towards all-party talks in Northern Ireland.
Those being freed today from Portlaoise Prison were serving terms of five to 10 years for offences from armed robbery to possession of arms and explosives.
Dominic Adams, Brian Kenna and Patrick Lavin were among six jailed for 10 years in 1990 after an abortive bank raid at Enniscorthy in Co Wexford. An accomplice in the raid, Pamela Kane, was freed in February.
Leslie Kinsella was one of five serving nine years for storing a large cache of explosives in a shed in Arklow, Co Wicklow. Ciaran O'Dwyer was serving 10 years for a similar offence.
Liam Phelan had been jailed for five years for allowing the IRA to store a major weapons cache on his Kilkenny farm.
The group includes former Limerick Garda, Denis Kelly, 31, from Mallow in Cork, sentenced to five years in February 1992 for passing details of pending Garda raids on republican arms dumps in the Limerick area to the IRA. He was due to be released in November. The freeing of the 12 means there are now just 29 IRA prisoners in jails in the Republic.
A spokesman for John Bruton, the Taoiseach, said the releases were part of the Irish government's ongoing examination of individual prisoners' cases, and showed its wish to underpin the peace process and its confidence in the permanence of the republican ceasefires.
The Irish Justice Minister, Nora Owen, endorsed the releases as "a significant contribution to the peace process".
The Sinn Fein vice president, Pat Doherty, welcomed the releases, but said they only served to highlight "the inaction by the British Government on the whole issue of prisoners".
t An appeals court in San Francisco has ordered the extradition of convicted terrorist James Smyth to Northern Ireland to complete the remaining two to five years of his 20-year sentence for trying to kill an off-duty prison guard in 1977, a crime he denies, writes Edward Helmore.
Smyth was one of 38 prisoners who broke out of the Maze in 1983 and had been living under an assumed identity in San Francisco for nine years. He is to fight the extradition.Reuse content