Justice Minister Michael McDowell who personally contacted Ann McCabe yesterday, agreed that O’Neill should still be inside for murder.
Speaking on a canvass in Dublin city centre yesterday, Mr McDowell said: “I wish all of those killers had been given life imprisonment for murder, but unfortunately at the time the Provisional Movement intimidated a lot of witnesses and as a result a manslaughter verdict was handed down, rather than a murder conviction.
“It was murder as far as I’m concerned and the only thing that saved them from a life sentence was the fact they intimidated witnesses.”
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said he was disgusted by what he called the “early release” of O’Neill.
“Fine Gael has vehemently opposed the early release of the killers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and have called on the Minister for Justice to take action to prevent it. Wringing his hands and saying that he wishes they he had been convicted of murder is just not good enough.”
Mr O’Neill was jailed for 11 years for his part in the 1996 killing of the Det Garda McCabe in Adare.
It is believed that O’Neill from Patrickswell Co Limerick travelled directly to Belfast on his release.
McCabe family spokesman Pat Kearney, a Limerick auctioneer and brother-in-law of Det Garda McCabe said yesterday: “O’Neill is a an insignificant little man who has caused hardship and heartbreak for the McCabe family. He should be serving a 40-year sentence for the murder of a garda and not 11 years for manslaughter.”
O’Neill was released yesterday with remission given to prisoners for good behaviour.
Justice Minister Michael McDowell said: “At the time the Provisional IRA were engaged in a campaign of intimidation of witnesses. It was murder as far as I am concerned.”
Another member of the Adare killer gang, Jeremiah Sheehy from Rathkeale is due out next year.
He was imprisoned for 12 years.
The two IRA killers given 14-year sentences, Pearse McAuley from Strabane and Kevin Walsh from Patrickswell are due for release in August 2009.
The sentences of all four date from February 1999 when the State at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin accepted pleas of guilty to manslaughter after trials for the murder of Det Gda McCabe had begun.
Public outrage was sparked when McAuley married Sinn Féin councillor Pauline Tully in January 2003 in Kilnaleck, Co Cavan, after he was given temporary release.
Pictures of the couple and Sinn Féin friends at a lavish wedding bash were carried in newspapers.
Sinn Féin mounted a relentless campaign to have the killers of Det Garda McCabe released under the Good Friday agreement.
The Government were engaged in secret talks to free the men until this move was scuttled after Ann McCabe embarrassed the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern into abandoning a deal.