No doubt some smartass revisionist from Fine Gael or a newspaper of record will attempt to explain that there is no parallel between then and now, no comparisons whatsoever. Perhaps they will tell us that the IRA of the 1940s is distinct from the IRA of today and that’s why, for example, Belfast man Harry White, sentenced for the manslaughter of Mordaunt, was given early release by Fine Gael, while Strabane man Pearse McAuley, sentenced for the manslaughter of Gárda McCabe, must remain in jail.
Fine Gael TD General Sean MacEoin, who was also the party’s presidential nominee in 1945 and 1959, came to the Ministry of Justice with a past which Fine Gael honours. In the Tan War the IRA killed almost 500 members of the RIC. When MacEoin was the leader of an IRA Flying Column in Longford in 1920 he had been responsible for killing up to two dozen of his fellow Roman Catholic Irishmen in the RIC. A small sample includes: 23-year-old John Kelleher from Cork who had only been in the RIC four months; 45-year-old Constable Peter Cooney, a married man, shot in the back whilst returning from leave; and 30-year-old District Inspector Thomas McGrath, a single man from County Limerick, shot through the head by MacEoin when he knocked on MacEoin’s door.
Men like MacEoin shot and bombed British soldiers and RIC men, killed them where they could – on holiday, on leave, in bed with their wives, at their dinner tables, on patrol and in the barracks.
Fine Gael is proud of IRA men like MacEoin. After all, he brought them to power. He fought the British in his country – though mistakes were often made and innocent people were killed.
It has happened throughout Irish republican history.
And that is why Fine Gael and any other party opposed to the release of the Castlerea prisoners rightly stand accused of double standards and hypocrisy.
For political gain Fine Gael released those convicted of killing guards in the 1940s. And for perceived political gain today – taking a tough stance against Sinn Fein - it refuses to support the release of prisoners in the same category, prisoners committed to peace and the Belfast Agreement.