A Cork man who told gardaí he had gone to Monaghan for “a drinking session” and did not know there was half-a-tonne of fertlizer in the van he was driving, has been found guilty of membership of the IRA.
Martin McHale (53), with an address at Blackwater Grove, Togher, Cork, County Cork, had pleaded not guilty at the non-jury Special Criminal Court to membership of an unlawful organisation, styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA on November 2nd, 2013.
It was the prosecution's case that McHale was involved in “nefarious activities associated with membership of the IRA”.
McHale had told gardaí during interviews that he had borrowed a freind's van to go to Monaghan for “a drinking session” and was unaware of the bags of fertiliser in the rear.
Detective Garda Emmett Ryan gave evidence that he saw a blue Hiace van parked in the forecourt of Connolly's filling station in Monaghan town on the night in question. Two men were in the van including McHale who was in the driver's seat.
Detective Garda Ryan said the area was monitored for dissident republican activity and he became “very suspicious” of the two individuals in the van when they did not answer why there were there.
After contacting colleagues at Monaghan Garda Station, Detective Garda Ryan said he was informed that the van did not belong to McHale or the other man and that McHale was the subject of several intelligence entries in the Garda PULSE system.
As a result of this information, the detective said that he suspected McHale was a member of the IRA. Gardaí then searched the van and in the back were ten 50kg bags of ammonium nitrate based fertilizer.
Finding McHale guilty of IRA membership today, Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said the three-judge Special Criminal Court was satisfied that the prosecution proved the guilt of McHale beyond a reasonable doubt.
The prosecution, lead by Anne-Marie Lawlor BL, relied on the opinion evidence of an Assistant Garda Commissioner; McHale's failure to answer material questions; the alleged activity and his alleged associations with men convicted of IRA membership.
Ms Justice Kennedy said the Special Criminal Court was satisfied that McHale was aware of the contents of the van.
She said his account of having borrowed a van to go on a spin to Monaghan lacked credibility. His explanation as to why he didn't use his own car lacked credibility. His car was roadworthy and had a valid NCT, Ms Justice Kennedy said.
She said the court was satisfied that McHale “failed to answer material questions” regarding the owner of the van. It was irrelevant, Ms Justice Kennedy said, that McHale provided a reason for his failure – that he didn't want to get his friend in trouble.
She said McHale had been fully advised of the consequences of failing to answer and had legal advice.
Ms Justice Kennedy said the court was satisfied that the Assistant Garda Commissioner was a credible witness and accepted his evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
Assistant Commissioner Michael Finn, who had been Chief Superintendent for Cork until 2016, told the court that he “100%” believed McHale to be a member of the IRA. Assistant Commissioner Finn said his evidence was based on material in his possession over which he claimed privilege.
McHale was remanded on continuing bail to appear before the court again on March 6 next, for sentence.