Temporary release for 'Border Fox' who killed and tortured through the Troubles

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The Independent Online

One of the most notorious killers of the Troubles has been temporarily freed from prison in the Irish Republic, giving rise to speculation that his eventual release may be in prospect.

Dessie O'Hare, an unpredictable renegade republican suspected of involvement in more than two dozen murders, was given a one-night release from the Republic's Castlerea prison, his first taste of freedom for 15 years.

Some security elements in the Republic are nervous about the prospect of his release, since his record includes not just murders but acts of particular cruelty. He was given a 40-year sentence in 1988.

In recent years he has declared that "my war is over", saying his ambition now is to help build homes for the handicapped. As part of a dedication to yoga he remained silent for six years. Most paramilitary prisoners in the Republic and Northern Ireland have been freed under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. But O'Hare led his own unit separate from larger groups such as the IRA, which subscribed to the peace process.

A year ago O'Hare, who was known as "the Border Fox", was transferred from the high-security Portlaoise prison to the more relaxed Castlerea, causing speculation that his imprisonment might be drawing to a close. But the Republic's Justice Minister, Michael McDowell, is regarded as a tough law-and-order figure with an approach similar to that of Michael Howard when he was the British Home Secretary. It is therefore regarded as unlikely that he will act precipitately in the case of O'Hare.

He indicated yesterday that no decisions regarding release had been taken and that no release date had been set. The minister described suggestions that O'Hare might be freed next year as "purely speculative and without foundation".

He received his 40-year sentence for offences that included the kidnapping and mutilation of a Dublin dentist. In demanding a ransom, O'Hare chiselled off two of the dentist's fingers and sent them to the police.

O'Hare and his gang eluded capture for weeks despite a nationwide manhunt in the Republic. He broke through police checkpoints on several occasions before being captured after a shoot-out in which an associate was killed. Although he was not convicted of murder, security sources do not doubt O'Hare's own claim that he killed more than two dozen people. These included many members of the security forces as well as members of his own former grouping, the Irish National Liberation Army.

The heavy prison sentence was regarded as reflecting his reputation as one of most dangerous, volatile and unpredictable of republican activists of the Troubles.

The INLA, though still in existence, is not regarded as a major threat to peace. It has been involved in a number of incidents but these are regarded as minor. The question for the authorities is whether O'Hare's lengthy stay in prison has removed all possibility that he might return to his highly individual brand of terrorism.