A "naive" man who made a “catastrophic error of judgment” by opening the gates of his father’s quarry and allowing the IRA to take explosives away has avoided an immediate jail sentence.
Presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt said today that this was an “unusual case” which had “unfortunate and exceptional circumstances”.
Larry Behan (41), of Eaton Close, Rathcoole, Co Dublin pleaded guilty last month to knowingly rendering assistance to the IRA in the possession of explosives at L. Behan Aggregates & Recycling Centre, Windmillhill, Rathcoole, Co Dublin on April 13, 2016.
The offence is contrary to Section 21A of the Offences Against the State Act, 1939, as inserted by Section 49 of the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act, 2005.
Passing sentence today, Mr Justice Hunt said Behan had not been a person of interest to gardaí in the context of subversive activity.
The judge outlined that gardaí had become curious as to how two men had gained access to the quarry and spoke to Behan.
The investigation showed that these men had made contact with the defendant in order to lift the gate to the quarry but there had been “no personal interaction” between Behan and the men, the judge said.
John Roche (55), of Bridgefoot Street, Dublin 8 and John Brock (46), with an address at Cushlawn Park, Tallaght, Dublin 24 were each sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty by the Special Criminal Court of possessing 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.
John Roche's car had been under surveillance at the time and was observed going into Behan's Quarry on Windmillhill in Rathcoole, Co Dublin at 7pm that day.
Referring to Behan, the judge noted that it was accepted that the defendant had “genuinely thought” that the explosive material was no longer of use and an individual with subversive contacts, who was working in the quarry, had an “ulterior motive” for these explosives.
Furthermore, Mr Justice Hunt said that the defendant had been informed prior to the removal of the explosives from the disused shed in Rathcoole that they were to be passed on to a dissident organisation. Following this, pressure had been imposed on Behan so that he would keep to the arrangement which was naively entered into by him, said the judge, adding that the defendant had told gardaí in his interviews that he feared for himself and his family.
However, the judge said that once the explosives came to the attention of the unlawful organisation they would have been removed either way.
Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said it fell in the upper part of the lower range and the headline sentence was two years in prison.
Mitigating factors in sentencing, Mr Justice Hunt said, were the fact that he had no previous convictions, had cooperated with the authorities by making immediate admissions and had entered a guilty plea.
The court also took into account his previous good work record and the fact that he had provided evidence to gardaí which was vital to the case against him.
Having considered the submissions made by Behan’s barrister, the judge said that not imposing an immediate custodial sentence in this case was justified. Mr Justice Hunt, sitting with Judge Patricia Ryan and Judge Ann Ryan, sentenced Behan to two years in prison and suspended it for those two years on his own bond of €100. He must keep the peace and be of good behaviour during this time.
Addressing Behan, Mr Justice Hunt said this case had “exceptional and unfortunate circumstances” and insisted that he must not come back before the court again.
At Behan’s sentence hearing earlier this month, Inspector Padraig Boyce of the Special Detective Unit (SDU), summarised the facts of the case.
Insp Boyce told prosecuting counsel Anne-Marie Lawlor SC that members of the IRA had been involved in the movement of explosives. Two men, John Roche and John Brock, were apprehended in Roche's vehicle, which was carrying 167kg of explosives, on the Naas Road in Dublin on April 13, 2016.
Insp Boyce explained that Roche’s car had been under surveillance on the day and was observed going into Behan's Quarry on Windmillhill in Rathcoole, Co Dublin at 7pm.
Insp Boyce said that Behan became a person of interest following the event and he was arrested for the offence of possessing an explosive substance on April 14, 2016. This was not the offence he subsequently pleaded guilty to, explained Insp Boyce.
Gardaí learned that the defendant had an involvement in Behan’s Quarry and was the owner’s son. Following his arrest, Behan immediately made admissions to gardai and fully admitted his role in the event.
Behan told gardaí that he and another man, who was a casual worker at the quarry, found the commercial explosives and Kemegel when they were cleaning out an old farm shed on a date prior to April 13. The shed had been disused for 30 years, the court heard.
Insp Boyce said Behan’s intention was to get rid of the explosives but the causal worker told him that he knew members of the IRA who would take them away. Behan opened the gates of the quarry to Roche and Brock on April 13 and the two men collected the items and left.
Under cross-examination, Insp Boyce agreed with Michael Bowman SC, defending, that his client had never “appeared on anyone’s radar” before this event and had no political association. He has worked all his adult life in the family business and resides with his partner in Rathcoole.
Insp Boyce further agreed that gardaí were curious as to how Roche and Brock had gained access to the quarry and Behan’s phone number was found on Brock’s phone. However, Behan had no interaction with the two men during their time at the quarry.
Insp Boyce also agreed with Mr Bowman that Behan had no understanding of the explosives capacity as he understood them to be “sodden with water” and therefore compromised. The casual worker had contacts unknown to the defendant as well as an “ulterior motive”, said counsel.
There was no suggestion of any financial reward for Behan and he had made a catastrophic error of judgment in facilitating this request as he understood the items would be disposed of, said counsel.
The causal worker had a connection with a dissident organisation and Behan was told he better not get involved and "to leave the plan in place", the court heard.
Mr Bowman put it to Insp Boyce that Behan was “the least likely person to cross the threshold" and end up as a defendant in this court. “Without question,” replied Insp Boyce.
Insp Boyce agreed that Behan appreciates the enormity of his actions and is a man with huge regrets. He was an individual who was taken advantage of and had admitted his role in the event, said Insp Boyce.
The witness agreed with counsel that once these individuals became aware of the items they would have collected them from the quarry, with or without Behan’s involvement.
Behan had a genuine fear for his life and was a naive individual who lacked judgement, the court heard.
Mr Justice Hunt interjected at this point and asked Insp Boyce when did the defendant first become conscious of the fact that these items were going to a subversive organisation. “I think he was conscious at the time. I don’t think he was compliant with it when he was under duress but certainly he knew IRA people were involved," replied Insp Boyce, adding that Behan had been aware in advance.
In his submissions, Mr Bowman said that his client was under threat and it was a “sad irony” that his responsibility came down to making a single telephone call to open the gates to the quarry.
“It was a catastrophic error of judgment which placed him in peril of his life,” said the barrister, adding that he now requires medication to get on with his daily activities.
This is a matter of tremendous shame, regret, remorse and reflection in Behan’s life, said Mr Bowman.
In full, Behan pleaded guilty to knowingly rendering assistance to an unlawful organisation, namely the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA in the performance or furtherance of an unlawful object (namely the possession of explosives) by facilitating access by other persons to the Quarry, L. Behan Aggregates & Recycling Centre, Windmillhill, Rathcoole, Co Dublin and by making available to such other persons a quantity of explosive substances, to wit 57 kg of homemade explosives consisting of Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Mix (ANFO) and 38 x 2.5kg rolls of ‘Kemegel’ industrial explosives and 18 x expended commercial detonators on April 13, 2016.