Four men charged with offences arising out of the discovery of two mortars in Co Louth last year have received sentences totalling 21½ years at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin today.
The men, two of whom are from the Republic while two are from the North, were arrested in November last year after a garda investigation into the suspected manufacture of improvised explosive devices by dissident republicans.
Patrick Tierney (aged 26), of Drumarg Park, Armagh City, Co Armagh and Patrick Gordon (aged 23), of Newtownhamilton Road, Armagh City had pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of an explosive substance, an improvised mortar launcher and a mortar at Commons Road, Dromiskin, Co Louth on November 30, 2010.
Dalton McKevitt (aged 36) and Niall Farrell (aged 35) had pleaded not guilty to membership of an illegal organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hÉireann, otherwise the IRA on November 30, 2010.
McKevitt, of Woodbury Gardens, Dundalk, Co Louth and Farrell, of Clos Brid, Dundalk, Co Louth had pleaded not guilty no contest to the offences, allowing the State to read evidence in to the record without challenge from either defence team.
The court heard that on November 30 last year, members of the garda crime and surveillance unit observed McKevitt, Tierney and Gordon driving in a Peugeot 306 car which was later searched and found to contain a mortar “primed and ready for use”.
Chief Superintendant Diarmuid O’Sullivan told Mr Shane Costelloe BL, prosecuting, that before the vehicle was searched Dalton McKevitt had been dropped off at a derelict house on the old N1 road, a subsequent search of which revealed another mortar launch tube buried in debris.
He said McKevitt was arrested near the house wearing a black woollen hat and black gloves covered by plastic surgical gloves, while Niall Farrell, who was found hiding in some bushes nearby, told gardaí that he had taken refuge in the shrubs after encountering three men whom he feared were acting suspiciously while out on a walk.
The court heard belief evidence from Chief Superintendant Patrick McGee that both McKevitt and Farrell were members of an unlawful organisation within the State on November 30 last year.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Paul Butler said the court had no alternative but to draw inferences from McKevitt’s and Farrell’s refusal to answer material questions in interview and regard this as corroborative to the belief evidence of Chief Superintendant McGee.
He said the court found the accused men Dalton McKevitt and Niall Farrell guilty of the offence of membership of an unlawful organisation.
Delivering sentence, Mr Justice Paul Butler said that although the men were all arrested after the discovery of a lethal weapon, the court found there was a clear difference between the offences and it would be unfair to those found guilty of membership of an unlawful organisation to be dealt with as part of an enterprise where a mortar was found.
He said that the court found that the appropriate sentence for Patrick Tierney was one of six-and-a-half years imprisonment, having regard to his plea of guilty but noting his previous conviction for the possession of firearm with intent to endanger life.
Mr Justice Butler, sitting with Judge Alison Lindsay and Judge Cormac Dunne, said the court noted Patrick Gordon’s plea of guilty and his lack of previous convictions and considered the appropriate sentence to be one of five years.
With regard to Dalton McKevitt and Niall Farrell, he said the Oireachtas considered the offence of membership of an illegal organisation to be less serious than the possession of explosives.
However, Mr Justice Butler said the court had regard to the fact that both men had previous convictions for the possession of firearms and ammunition and considered the appropriate sentence to be one of five years' imprisonment in each case.