I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy Coughlan, to the House. With no disrespect to her, I am somewhat disappointed the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform could not attend.
The matter to which I wish to refer arises on foot of repeated reports that there seems to be a different system of temporary release operating in recent times, particularly in relation to the IRA killers convicted of the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. In that context, I wonder if the Minister of State will be in a position to respond to recent articles and complaints. For example, the Evening Herald of Tuesday last states that the Department is either remaining tight-lipped or refusing to comment. It appears that some of these prisoners are being released more frequently for long weekend breaks from Castlerea Prison. This institution is described as a prison, but from some reports it seems to be a year-round holiday camp. Most holiday camps close for the period September-October until March, but it appears that Castlerea holiday camp opens all year round.
The article in Tuesday's Evening Herald states:
Detective McCabe's killers are serving their punishment in a small housing estate called The Grove, which nestles just inside the walls of Castlerea prison.
It's a picturesque development of five houses set on five acres separated by a wire fence from the "criminals" in the main prison building.
The design of the houses varies between bungalow and two storey constructions of four-to-six bed capacity.
This very interesting article proceeds to state that "When they don't want to cook, they can also send out for takeaways." This begs the question as to why would these people ever want to be released. It is important to recall that these people were not imprisoned for shoplifting. Is there some cosy arrangement between the Government and either the IRA or Sinn Féin in relation to temporary release procedures?
On Saturday 8, June 1996, the day after the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, the leading article in The Irish Times stated:
The Provisional IRA has denied any involvement in the attack. Only the culpably naive will take that denial at face value . . . Perhaps those who direct the IRA would not have wanted this to happen.
It is interesting to note that five years later the same denial was issued in respect of several people who became lost in Colombia. It was only when the IRA had to face facts that it admitted these individuals were its representatives.
Is the Minister of State in a position to indicate the procedures in operation at present? Have special cases been made? Why were the Garda authorities in Limerick not informed about these releases? Are these people being released for three or four nights without supervision? Was the family of the late Jerry McCabe, members of which reside in the vicinity of where these people spent their weekend sojourn, notified about the release? In light of possible Sinn Féin gains in the next election, will a deal be done in respect of further relaxation of the rules be contemplated in order to shore up Fianna Fáil support?
Answers are required in respect of this matter. The Department has been very coy and the Taoiseach has stated that these individuals will not be given early release. However, perhaps they are being granted frequent temporary releases from this so-called prison which, in reality, is probably as good as any other holiday camp in the country. I ask the Minister of State to respond positively. If she is not in a position to do so perhaps she will refer the matter to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I accept that she has no direct responsibility in this area and I have no intention of casting aspersions on her ability because I know she is competent. However, given the serious nature of the issue I would have thought the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform would have been present.