A dissident republican plot to target judges and police officers in Northern Ireland has been exposed by a covert MI5 operation, a court has heard.
Listening devices placed in a house in Newry, Co Down at the direction of the security services has provided the evidence to charge seven men who appeared in court in the city accused of a range of terrorist offences, a police officer told the judge.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) detective sergeant said“somewhere close to 70 hours” of material gathered in the property in Ardcarn Park over a three-month period from August included a series of meetings involving “leading key figures of a proscribed organisation”.
All seven accused, aged between 30 and 75, were arrested in a raid in Ardcarn Park last week by heavily armed police investigating the activities of the Continuity IRA.
They were all remanded in custody by the district judge at the close of yesterday’s short hearing.
Four of the accused are from the Republic and three from Northern Ireland.
All have been charged with membership of a proscribed organisation, while six face charges of conspiracy to possess explosives with intent to endanger life, conspiracy to possess firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life and preparation for acts of terrorism.
Five are also charged with directing terrorism.
As all seven watched on from the crowded dock, a prosecution lawyer asked the detective sergeant to confirm details of the operation that led to the arrests.
“MI5 arranged for a device or number of devices to be placed within an address at Ardcarn Park, Newry,” he said.
“A number of meetings were recorded at which the defendants were present.”
The officer said those statements were correct.
She answered “correct” when asked by the lawyer if topics discussed during the meetings included membership of a proscribed organisation; weapons training; funding terrorist activity; plans to commit acts of terrorism; and plans to procure firearms and ammunitions.
The lawyer then asked: “Specific individual police officers were discussed with a view to targeting them?”
The detective sergeant answered: “That is correct.”
Asked if “members of the judiciary” were also discussed at the meetings, she again answered in the affirmative.
The lawyer then asked had there also been talk that a dissident member be “taken out” for apparently posting material on the internet.
“That is correct,” replied the officer.
The five men facing a count of directing terrorism along with the four other charges are Patrick Joseph Blair, aged 59, from Villas One, Dundalk; Liam James Hannaway, aged 44, from White Rise, Dunmurry on the outskirts of Belfast; Joseph Matthew Lynch, aged 73, from Beechgrove Avenue, Limerick; Sean O’Neill, aged 75, from Quinn’s Cottages, Limerick; and Colin Patrick Winters, aged 43, from Ardcarn Park, Newry.
The man facing four charges is John Sheehy, aged 30, from Clounmacon, Listowel, Co Kerry.
Seamus Morgan, aged 58, from Barcroft Park, Newry, faces the solitary charge of membership of a proscribed organisation. None of them spoke when asked to confirm their identity at the outset of the hearing.
A lawyer for Morgan said a bail application would be made before the same court on Wednesday. The other six accused were remanded in custody to appear again in four weeks.
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