While Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Justice Minister Michael McDowell were giving differing accounts on the evidence available to confirm the IRA membership of Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and Martin Ferris, the Special Criminal Court heard evidence which pointed to links between another Sinn Féin TD, Aengus O’Snodaigh, and the IRA.
The court heard that gardaí swooped on three vehicles and found:
In a Nissan Almera, Sinn Féin posters, including election posters for Mr O’Snodaigh, a stun gun, a CS gas canister, a blue flashing light and a beacon.
In a transit van, two pick axe handles, a lump hammer, three portable radios, cable ties, balaclavas and a fake garda jacket. Two men were dressed in fake garda uniforms.
The Special Criminal Court jailed the five IRA men for four years each yesterday after they were convicted of membership of an illegal organisation.
The five men are Thomas Gilson, aged 24, of Bawnlea Ave, Jobstown, Tallaght; Patrick Brennan, aged 40, of Lindisfarne Avenue, Clondalkin; Sean O’Donnell, aged 32, of Castle Drive, Sandymount; John Troy, aged 25, of Donard Avenue and Stephen Birney, aged 31, of Conquerhill Road, Clontarf. All denied membership of the IRA.
The men were arrested on October 11, 2002, after gardaí stopped a van in South County Dublin. Judge Diarmuid O’Donovan told the court that he was baffled by the men’s actions and what they had been planning.
“Whatever purpose the accused had for being in each other’s company on the evening of October 10, 2002 and whatever they intended to do with the items which were found in the van in which they were arrested and in the Nissan Almera car with which they were also associated on that evening, the court has no doubt but that they were up to no good by which the court means some criminal activity.
“Certainly, notwithstanding that an election poster bearing the name Aengus O’Snodaigh TD was also found in the Nissan Almera car, the court is satisfied that whatever the accused had in mind on that evening, it was a far cry from electioneering on behalf of Sinn Féin which was the purpose for which the van in which they were arrested had been lent to the Sinn Féin organisation by its owner.’
The men were escorted from the court to the sound of clapping and cheering from the public gallery.
Last November two men, Niall Binead and Kenneth Donohoe, were convicted of a similar offence and jailed for four years.
Earlier Chief Superintendent Peter Maguire told the court that all the men were members of the Provisional IRA and were attached to that organisation’s Dublin Brigade and answerable directly to the leadership.
During the 24-day trial, the court heard that the five were arrested after an off duty Special Branch detective noticed suspicious activity around three vehicles.
Detective Chief Superintendent Philip Kelly, of the Special Detective Unit, told the court that he believed each of the men were members of the IRA.
Convicting the men, Mr Justice O’Donovan said that the Chief Superintendent’s opinion evidence had not been challenged by the defence.
He said their silence amounted to corroboration of Chief Supt Kelly’s belief evidence.