Five Dundalk men charged in connection with a planned punishment beating in the town were jailed by the Special Criminal Court today for possession of firearms for an unlawful purpose.
Dalton McKevitt (27) St Aubin's Road, Eoin Quigley (29) Oakland Park, Tony O'Hare (41) Marian Park, Alan Browne (36) Mountain Court and Niall Farrell (26) Cedarwood Park pleaded guilty to possession of a 12 gauge shotgun and 9mm semi-automatic pistol for an unlawful purpose at Nicholas Street, Dundalk on January 5, 2002.
The five were sentenced to three and a half years each, to run from January 5 last.
The state did not proceed with a charge of membership of an illegal organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise the IRA on the same date.
The court heard that the five accused were at a briefing session at the Nicholas Street house prior to carrying out a punishment beating when armed gardai burst in. The weapons were in a sports bag on the floor. Gardai also recovered a quantity of ammunition, a nail bar, hammer five balaclavas and seven gloves.
Det Superintendent Peter Maguire, Special Detective Unit, told the court that during questioning, Tony O'Hare told gardai the men intended to "inflict a bit of damage" to a gang of anti social youths around the Coxes Demesne area of Dundalk. The accused had claimed the youths were "breaking into old people's homes", and were into drugs and causing damage.
The superintendent told the court the accused made a short statement admitting he was a member of an unlawful organisation and had attended a training camp in Co Kildare.
The accused, Eoin Quigley also admitted membership of the same organisation but claimed he was not an active member and had intended to leave. He told gardai he did not know what was going on when he arrived at Nicholas Street that night.
Det Superintendent Maguire told the court that when arrested, the accused Niall Farrell had a "hammer stuffed down the front of his trousers".
The court heard that the five were from good backgrounds and were previously of good character.
However, Mr Justice Diarmaid O'Donovan presiding, said the court needed to "send out a very strong message that this type of thuggery would not be tolerated". Nobody, he said, "can take the law into their own hands".
Mr Justice O'Donovan said the five had a common purpose of "evil intent". This was very obvious by the weapons found by gardai which could cause "very serious harm".
The court could not ignore this fact and the potential harm that could result when considering sentence, he added.
Jailing each accused to three and a half years backdated to January last, Mr Justice O'Donovan said the sentence reflected the guilty plea and defence evidence of each accused's previous good character and charitable work within the community.