Five Dublin men accused of membership of an illegal organisation were only under suspicion for theft until gardaí saw the tattoos of one of the accused in custody, the Special Criminal Court heard today.
The five men have pleaded not guilty to membership of an illegal organisation styling itself as the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA, on October 11, 2002.
They are Thomas Gilson (aged 24), of Bawnlea Avenue, Jobstown, Tallaght; Patrick Brennan (aged 40), of Lindisfarne Avenue, Clondalkin; Sean O'Donnell (aged 32), of Castle Drive, Sandymount; John Troy (aged 22), of Donard Avenue and Stephen Birney (aged 30), of Conquerhill Road, Clontarf.
The court has heard that Garda Ronan Mannion and Garda Patrick Twomey spotted a suspicious van "toing and froing" at Corke Abbey Avenue in Bray on the night of October 10.
Garda Shaw Megannety, who was also at the scene, told the court how Garda Twomey "opened the passenger door and pointed to the ground where there was a Motorola radio and black balaclava on the ground".
When Garda Twomey opened the side door, they found four men sitting in the back of the van. Two of the men were dressed in light blue shirts and dark trousers and shoes, "like a Garda uniform".
"What's going on, lads?" Garda Twomey asked. "There was no response from them," Garda Megannety said.
The men were arrested and brought for questioning to Bray Garda Station.
Garda Megannety told the court he thought the presence of balaclavas indicated "something sinister".
He denied that the balaclavas suggested any notion of activity of an illegal organisation."Not at the time," he said.
He said the purpose of the garda interview was to "investigate involvement under the charge of theft".
Questioning one of the accused, Birney, Garda Megannety asked him to roll up his sleeves.
"Stephen, you have a lot of tattoos," Garda Megannety said in his statement. The next question was: "Do you have any connection with membership of an illegal organisation?" the court heard.
Garda Megannety said he would not have asked the question if he did not suspect Birney was involved in illegal membership activities.
The trial continues tomorrow before Mr Justice Diarmuid O'Donovan.