Two men who were “in joint control” of 167kg of explosives found inside a car - enough to make a bomb three quarters as large as the one detonated in Omagh in 1998 - have been jailed for total of 15 and a half years.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt also told defendant John Brock (46), who has a previous conviction before the Special Criminal Court, that "the time has now come for him to cut this out" and that he could avail of an 18-month sentence reduction if he undertook to dissociate from dissidents.
Mr Justice Hunt said today that the explosives weighed between 23 and 24 stone and "the potential for death, injury and damage" was "very great indeed".
Armed gardaí had found four bags of explosives in the boot of the black Skoda Fabia car and 18 expended detonators under the front passenger seat when they stopped the vehicle on the Naas Road three years ago.
John Roche (55) was today sentenced to seven years in prison, while his co-accused John Brock was jailed for eight and a half years. The two men were found guilty by the non-jury court earlier this month.
Roche, of Bridgefoot Street, Dublin 8 and Brock, with an address at Cushlawn Park, Tallaght, Dublin 24 had both pleaded not guilty to possession of 57kg of homemade explosives, consisting of ammonium nitrate fuel mix, and thirty-eight 2.5kg rolls of Kemegel industrial explosives at Naas Road, Dublin 12, on April 13, 2016.
Sentencing the two defendants this morning, Mr Justice Hunt said both men had possessed these explosives for the purposes of an unlawful organisation and this was an aggravating factor in the case.
However, the judge said that the court could not be satisfied that the men's involvement with the explosives extended beyond their transportation.
Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said it was at the mid-level of the top range and the maximum sentence was 14 years in prison.
The appropriate starting point for this offence was 10 years imprisonment, indicated the judge.
Passing sentence on Roche, Mr Justice Hunt said that the two mitigating factors in his case were that he had not contested the prosecution evidence during the trial and he was a man in his mid-50s with health difficulties. The court also took into account that he has no previous convictions.
Furthermore, the fact gardaí accepted that Roche was not on "garda radar" either before or after this event was important, said the judge.
Sentencing Roche, Mr Justice Hunt said the court would reduce the headline sentence of ten years by three years and impose a sentence of seven years.
Referring to Brock, Mr Justice Hunt said that he did not have an "unblemished record" like his co-accused Roche. Brock was convicted for possessing firearms and ammunition in the Special Criminal Court in 2008 and was sentenced to six years in prison.
The judge said that Brock had approached the trial in the same manner as Roche and was therefore entitled to mitigation. The three-judge panel then sentenced Brock to eight and a half years in prison.
Following this, the court said there was an element of "recidivism" in Brock's case and the court would need some bond or undertaking from him to dissociate with members of dissident organisations if he wanted a further reduction of 18 months off his sentence.
Mr Justice Hunt told Brock's barrister that his client could have time to consider this but said that this was his second conviction for this offence and "it was time to stop".
The judge emphasised:
He can have eight and a half years or eight and a half years with 18 months suspended. The time has now come for him to cut this out
Following sentencing, the two men gave little reaction before they were led away by prison officers.
Anne-Marie Lawlor SC, prosecuting, asked the court to enter a "nolle prosequi" in respect of IRA membership charges. This means the State will not be proceeding with the prosecution.
Both men were also charged with membership of an unlawful organisation, styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA, on the same date.
Delivering judgment last week, the court found that it was “totally incredible” that Roche maintained that he knew anything about 167kg of explosives found inside his “heavily laden car”, including detonators sticking out from the passenger seat.
In relation to Brock who was a front-seat passenger in the car, the court found it was not reasonably possible that he was unaware of the “bulky load” and the detonators “protruding” from under his seat.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt said that the facts of the case proved that both men were "in joint control" over the substances found in the car and that they were guilty of having the explosives.
At this week’s sentence hearing, ballistic expert Detective Sergeant Tom Power, summarised the facts of the case.
Det Sgt Power told prosecuting counsel John Byrne BL that the total amount of explosives found in the boot of the car on the Naas Road equated to almost three quarters of the amount used in the Omagh bombing.
The court heard that an estimated 500lbs (227kg) of ANFO was used in the Omagh bombing on August 15, 1998.
Det Sgt Power told Mr Byrne:
So, in comparison then, that [Naas Road bomb] would be a very large bomb. It would amount to over half or three quarters of the Omagh bomb.
The car bomb which exploded in Omagh, Co Tyrone, killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injured 220 others. It is deemed to be the deadliest single incident of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Padraig Dwyer SC, defending Brock, submitted that he had not come to the attention of gardaí since 2013.
Mr Justice Tony Hunt told Mr Dwyer: “He dropped off the radar…but this is a pretty big blip.”
Mr Dwyer said his client’s involvement in the incident was “very much a spontaneous act” and said his knowledge was “limited”. Mr Brock had no foresight or prior knowledge of the explosives, he said.
Hugh Hartnett SC, for Roche, submitted that Roche was not in good health and has “significant heart problems”.
The non-jury court heard he had done a considerable amount of volunteer work in the Meath Street area of Dublin city as well as at a boxing club.