The family of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe, has expressed shock at learning that his killers could be released early from prison.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said earlier the release of Mr McCabe's killers would have to be part of a comprehensive deal on N Ireland.

He told the Dáil that if a deal is reached, he will recommend that the prisoners be released from jail.

Mr Ahern was replying to Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, who pointed out that suggestions of early release for the men involved had caused public outrage.

Detective Garda McCabe was shot dead in an attempted robbery in Adare in Co Limerick in June 1996, while his garda colleague, Ben O'Sullivan, was wounded.

Although the IRA initially denied involvement, four Republicans were later convicted of manslaughter, while a fifth man, who has since been released after serving his sentence, was convicted of robbery charges.

Sinn Féin has consistently claimed that the men should be released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, a position rejected by the Government.

Today, Mr Ahern said they could be released if IRA paramilitary activity ends completely, but the Government would first have to engage with Mr McCabe's family, Ben O'Sullivan, and garda representative organisations.

In a statement this evening, Det McCabe's family said their shock was compounded by the fact that they had no advance warning of the news, and heard it for the first time on the radio.

They said they had been repeatedly assured by the Government that there would be no early release for Mr McCabe's killers.