THE Irish government has accepted that the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe will be released from prison in October if plans for the restoration of a power-sharing executive in the North are agreed, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

Following the revelation that the Irish government had agreed in principle to the release of the killers last year, it has emerged that their release will be one of the key provisions of any future deal in the North involving powersharing between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

While the issue of the McCabe killers directly involves the Irish government and Sinn Féin, it has been tacitly accepted by all sides that their release will be part of any overall settlement. The Irish government agreed last October to release the five IRA men from Castlerea prison, but the deal fell through because the IRA act of decommissioning was not enough to keep the Ulster Unionists on board for a settlement.

Sinn Féin negotiators have made it clear to the government that any new agreement will depend on the release of the five. Despite official denials, the Taoiseach and his team of negotiators have accepted that the killers will be released in the context of an overall settlement.

The Irish and British governments are trying to convince Sinn Féin and the DUP to agree to a sequence of events next October which will lead to "acts of completion" by the IRA, a clear statement that "the war is over" and reciprocal agreement by the DUP to share power with Sinn Féin.

The tacit agreement on the McCabe killers flies in the face of a number of statements by the Taoiseach that their release "could not be considered". However, government sources pointed this weekend to Bertie Ahern's statement in the Dáil last year that: "The Garda Jerry McCabe issue is outstanding and we are considering it." He was responding to a question from Labour leader, Pat Rabbitte.

In the Dáil this week, Rabbitte and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, will demand that the Taoiseach clarify whether the release of the killers is an issue for negotiation.