By not releasing Quinlivan, McCauley or McMahon, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the Irish justice minister, defused a potential row between the two governments.
Earl Mountbatten's great-nephew, the Marquess of Milford Haven, yesterday said he was ``shocked and horrified'' by the possibility that McMahon could be released early. He should only be allowed to leave prison ``in a hearse''.
Ulster Unionists claimed that the release was part of a deal with the IRA; Dublin denies this. Both governments are resisting pressure from republican and loyalist paramilitaries for an amnesty.
In a signal that the peace process is gaining momentum, Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said he would be meeting Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, for the first time since being told to leave Downing Street by John Major.
Mr Paisley denied his party was ready to re-enter the talks process, and said the meeting would concentrate on the Prime Minister's promise of a referendum on a final deal on Ulster.