Sinn Fein and Ahern clash over jailings

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AN OPEN rift appeared between the Irish Government and Sinn Fein over the Good Friday Agreement as four men were jailed yesterday for killing Limerick Garda Jerry McCabe during a June 1996 IRA robbery.

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, on a visit to Northern Ireland, insisted the four would serve "whatever sentences were handed down by the court". But Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness predicted "I certainly think these men will qualify" for the early release scheme.

Dublin has repeatedly insisted Good Friday Agreement early releases were qualified by a protocol, subject of intense argument during final negotiations last April, excluding from the scheme certain prisoners awaiting trial including the McCabe accused. Former Brixton escaper Pearse McCauley, 34, of Strabane, and Kevin Walsh, 42, of Patrickswell, Limerick, were jailed for 14 years at Dublin's Special Criminal Court. Jeremiah Sheehy, 36, of Rathkeale, and Michael O'Neill, 48, of Patrickswell, received 12 and 11-year terms respectively.

The four pleaded guilty to manslaughter. A fifth, John Quinn, aged 30, received six years for conspiracy to rob.