A potential world champion weightlifter will be sentenced for IRA membership next week at the Special Criminal Court.
Neil Smith (aged 35), Tubberfinn, Donore, Drogheda, Co Louth, was found guilty last month of membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hÉireann, otherwise the IRA on August 8, 2010.
Detective Garda John Feeney told his sentencing hearing today that the mechanic was arrested that morning along with four other men travelling in two cars on the Castletown Road near Dundalk.
He said the black BMW and beige Ford Galaxy MPV were travelling in convoy back and forth past a Maxol garage, slowing down each time they passed.
He said gardaí stopped the cars and found a sawn-off shotgun loaded with two cartridges, a black balaclava and a Halloween mask in the BMW.
Smith was a passenger in the Galaxy, where gardaí found a jacket containing two shotgun cartridges and a black hat with two eye-holes cut in to it.
Several bags of icing sugar were also found in the Galaxy as well as in a silver Volkswagen Bora driven by the accused earlier that morning.
The court previously said it was satisfied that the 16 bags found in the Galaxy were intended for use in an explosive substance, but disregarded the sugar found in the Bora.
The detective confirmed that Smith denied being a member of the IRA. The court previously heard that he said he was going to a ‘training session’ that morning.
D Gda Feeney agreed with Dominic McGinn SC, defending, that one of the other men in the Galaxy had been ‘extremely violent’ while his client was cooperative.
The violent man was significantly involved in crime, he confirmed.
The detective agreed that Smith came from a respectable and hardworking family, none of whom had ever come to police attention. One of his brothers was an academic in America, he confirmed.
He confirmed that Smith had his own mechanic’s business before the recession and met his co-accused through his next job at a scrap yard.
He agreed that he was a keen sportsman, was an Irish-qualified referee for power lifting and competed on a world stage. He had also received garda vetting for work in the security industry.
He confirmed that the accused was regarded by his community as an honest, hard-working person and had a contract waiting for him on his release from prison, when he plans to restart his mechanic’s business.
Mr McGinn said the offence was completely out of character for his client and had shocked his family, friends and community.
“He has reflected on his life,” he said. “He realises the scrap yard was somewhere he shouldn’t have worked. It led to his downfall.”
He handed in a number of positive references, including from the mechanic who had trained him in the late 1990s, who said he was talented and focussed.
However, this man also said that when Smith left to start his own business, he feared he lacked the worldliness to survive in business alone, describing him as naïve, easily impressed and misled.
Mr McGinn described this as prophetic.
The president of the Irish GPC Power lifting Association said he had the height of respect for Smith while a reference from his own power lifting club said he had the potential to become a world champion.
Mr McGinn also handed in references from a retired school principal, the college which awarded his apprenticeship, the man awarding him the contract on his release, a former tax adviser and a local politician.
Finally, a reference from his sister said that he was a huge help to his parents, who had both been diagnosed with serious illnesses and could no-longer work.
Smith then entered the witness box where he gave an undertaking not to associate with anyone charged before or convicted by the Special Criminal Court.
Under cross-examination by Tara Burns BL, prosecuting, he said he would not train with one of his co-accused, also a power lifter.
When she asked him about the scrap yard, he said: “I’ll never go anywhere near it again.”
The non-jury court remanded him in custody for sentencing on Thursday next December 13.