Garda killer’s bid to overturn 40-year term fails

A man once sentenced to death for his role in the shooting dead of two gardaí following a botched robbery has had his bid for freedom dismissed by the High Court.

Colm O’Shea, currently held in Portlaoise Prison, was sentenced to death by the non-jury Special Criminal Court in 1980 after being found guilty, with two others, of the murder of Garda Henry Byrne. Det Garda John Morley was also shot dead in the raid.

The killing of the two gardaí near Loughglynn, Co Roscommon, in Jul 1980, shocked the nation.

On the advice of the government, then president Patrick Hillary commuted the death sentence in 1981 to "one of penal servitude of 40 years".

In proceedings against the State and the governor of the prison, O’Shea, one of Ireland’s longest-serving prisoners, sought an inquiry under Article 40.4.2 of the Constitution into the lawfulness of his detention.

O’Shea claimed that he had served his sentence and asked the High Court to order his release.

In his judgment yesterday, Mr Justice John Edwards dismissed O’Shea’s bid for freedom and found he was lawfully detained.

The judge said he was satisfied O’Shea had not raised any valid point of law that suggested his continued detention is anything other than in accordance with the law.

The judge further added that several arguments raised by O’Shea were "misconceived and unfounded".

O’Shea brought the application arising out what he claimed was the State’s refusal to grant him remission on the 40-year sentence he is serving, and argued that he was entitled to be released.

He claimed there was no evidence Dr Hillary had decreed the 40-year term should be served without remission. On that basis, the State’s decision that he would get no remission was both unconstitutional and unlawful, he claimed.

The decision to exclude him from remission was a sentencing exercise carried out by the executive and not by judges, and was therefore contrary to his rights under the European Convention, he submitted.

O’Shea was convicted alongside Peter Pringle and Patrick McCann, of the gardaí’s murders. In 1995, Mr Pringle’s conviction was overturned.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Edwards said that, after careful consideration of O’Shea’s arguments, he dismissed all grounds of his application.