THE fact that Jerry McCabe was killed in cold blood is not reason enough to keep his killers in jail. Many, many people were killed in cold blood in the course of the troubles.
What matters is what connection the killing had to the northern conflict at all.
Now this is not a question of guilt or innocence of the victim, as the vast majority of the victims were uninvolved people. Gunmen who killed completely innocent and uninvolved people have walked out of jail under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.
The details of the whole affair are hazy, which is part of the problem, but here is my understanding of the arguments for releasing the McCabe killers.
Gerry McCabe was killed by an IRA unit who were trying to rob a post office. The IRA were not on ceasefire at the time and the operation was fund-raising to support the IRA in its conflict with the British government. Therefore, as part of the Agreement, the men involved should be released from prison.
That’s seems logical but there are a number of flaws in the argument.
Firstly, it is not clear that it was an IRA operation. The IRA denied involvement (“None of our volunteers were involved in this morning’s incident in Adare. There was absolutely no IRA involvement”).
Secondly, opening fire on a garda is specifically forbidden by the IRA’s Green Book. IRA volunteers are expressly told not to engage the Gardai or the Defence Forces in combat.
Thirdly, no reason or explanation was given for the killing. From the evidence that has come into the public domain, Gerry McCabe did not pose a threat to the IRA men.
Fourthly, the robbery was not subsequently carried out.
The central point to be answered is whether IRA personnel are to be allowed amnesty for all crimes carried out during that period. What if an IRA man is found guilty of rape? Of not paying his tax?
The difference here is the concept of ‘scheduled offences’ which relates to a number of offences which then can be described as subversive crime.
Campaigners for the Castlerea 4 claim that because they were tried under scheduled offences they should be released. But the waters here are muddy. The concept of scheduled offences is chiefly used to try people considered too problematic for jury courts. Therefore organised crime figures, like John Gilligan, were tried in the Special Criminal Court under scheduled offences. Nobody is suggesting that these people should be released under the Belfast Agreement.
Is there not a suspicion that these men went on a freelance mission and then were forgiven by the IRA leadership who owed them a favour as long-term IRA volunteers?
Which brings us back to the point that the facts of the case are largely unknown and not in the public domain.
If these men qualify under the Belfast Agreement, then by all means they should be released. But that case has not been proven and the public, the gardai and the McCabe family are entitled to know the facts before any release is made.