Yesterday morning a van carrying Pearse McAuley, 42, and Kevin Walsh, 54, was driven away from Castlerea Prison as photographers and reporters were kept 200 metres back.
Mr Ferris was inside the van as it drove ahead of reporters and an unmarked garda car. After a short time the released men were transferred to another car as the transit van was used to block the pursuit.
Mr Ferris’s Dáil colleague Arthur Morgan said Sinn Féin had supported the decision to greet Det McCabe’s killers.
And he denied there was any attempt to thwart the gardaí, who could still have executed a British arrest warrant out on McAuley.
It was not until later in the day that the Crown Prosecution service said it would not follow up the warrant on McAuley or another man, Nessan Quinlivan, who both escaped from a British jail in 1991.
“If the gardaí had an interest in arresting him they would have done so outside the prison,” Mr Morgan said. He told RTÉ it was Sinn Féin tradition to greet IRA prisoners and there would have been a larger party but it was considered inappropriate.
The two killers were members of the Munster Unit of the IRA which carried out a botched raid on a Post Office van in Adare in June, 1996, in which Det McCabe was shot dead.
They served 10½ years of a 14-year sentence for manslaughter, most of which was spent in the Roscommon prison.
The pair – along with Michael O’Neill and Jeremiah Sheehy – had initially been charged with the murder of Det Gda McCabe in Adare, Co Limerick, but the murder charge was dropped when key witnesses refused to co-operate after being intimidated by the IRA.
All four then pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and O’Neill from Patrickswell, Co Limerick, was jailed for 11 years; Sheehy, from Rathkeale, Co Limerick, was jailed for 12 years, while McAuley and Walsh were both sentenced to 14 years in prison.
O’Neill was released in 2007, with Sheehy being freed last year, and shortly after 7am yesterday morning the two remaining members of the gang, McAuley from Strabane in Tyrone and Walsh from Patrickswell in Limerick, walked free.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said the organisation had already apologised for the killing and welcomed the men’s release.
“In a public statement some years ago the IRA members convicted in relation to Jerry McCabe’s death and the wounding of Garda Ben O’Sullivan, expressed their deep regret and apologised for the ‘hurt and grief we have caused to their families’,” he said.