Loophole lets Real IRA suspects go free

The Special Criminal Court ruled today that four men whose convictions for Real IRA membership were quashed last year could not be charged with the same offences again.

The Special Criminal Court ruled today that four men whose convictions for Real IRA membership were quashed last year could not be charged with the same offences again.

The men’s convictions were quashed last May by the Court of Criminal Appeal but the Director of Public Prosecutions sought to have them charged again with the same offences at the Special Criminal Court.

But the men were discharged today after the three-judge court ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to charge the men.

Mr Justice John Mac Menamin, sitting with Judge Alison Lindsay and Judge Cormac Dunne, said: "It is clear to this court that the Court of Criminal Appeal took the view that it was not appropriate to order a retrial."

The judge said that the Special Criminal Court did not have the jurisdiction to charge the men. He added: "This court takes the view that it would be entirely inappropriate to order a retrial."

The judge said that in their ruling on the cases, the appeal court had dealt conclusively with the matters before it and he added that there was no indication whatever that the court considered it was doing anything other than finally dealing with the matter.

Ciarán O Dwyer (aged 54), Castletroy View, Limerick; John Murphy (aged 29), Kilbarry, Old Mallow Road, Cork, Gerard Varian (aged 50), Fairhill, Cork; and Aidan O Driscoll (aged 30), Ballyvolane, Cork, were all convicted after a 20-day trial at the Special Criminal Court in 2005 of membership of the Real IRA, on December 15, 2003.

Mr O Dwyer was jailed for five years and nine months, Mr Varian for three years; Mr Murphy for four years; and Mr O Driscoll for three years.

Three were subsequently granted bail pending the outcome of the appeal but O Driscoll served almost three years in custody.

The appeal court had ruled that the Special Criminal Court did not have the jurisdiction to try the men because they were not charged forthwith or immediately after their arrests and brought before the court, as required under the provisions of section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act.

The decision was made in light of a Supreme Court decision in a similar case, that of Co Louth man Barry O Brien.

Lawyers for the men had argued their convictions should be quashed because of the failure to charge them forthwith before the Special Criminal Court.

The men were brought before that court after being detained by gardaí for more than 12 hours.

It was submitted that the Supreme Court judgment in the O'Brien case also applied to the four men.

The Supreme Court ruled that Mr O'Brien, of Mountain View Court, Dundalk had not been brought before the Special court forthwith and it therefore did not have the jurisdiction to try him.

The loophole exposed in the O'Brien case has since been closed in the Criminal Justice Act of 2006.

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