A key witness failed to give evidence in the trial of Aaron Brady for the murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe after receiving threats "backed by criminal or paramilitary elements", a High Court judge has heard.
Passing sentence on father-of-two Colin Hoey today, Mr Justice Michael White said he was "sure the vast majority of the decent people from south Armagh" were "sick and tired of criminals" invoking "the green flag" and intimidating witnesses.
The judge jailed Mr Hoey (30) for 21 days and fined him €2,000 for contempt of court.
Hoey, with an address at O'Neill Estate, Cregganduff, Co Armagh, pleaded guilty to the charge after failing to appear to answer a witness order during the trial of Aaron Brady.
Hoey had initially provided an alibi for Aaron Brady but later retracted it.
Mr Justice White said today that failing to attend court on foot of a witness order was "a serious matter" but Hoey was "most unfortunate" to become involved with Brady.
The judge noted that Hoey was a "very decent young man" from a "very decent family" who had been caught up in a "very difficult situation" and resided with his friend Brady "in a nest of vipers".
A bench warrant was issued for Hoey by trial judge Mr Justice White on March 5 this year after he failed to appear at the Central Criminal Court to answer a witness order during the trial of Brady.
He was arrested by gardaí on October 5 after presenting himself at the Criminal Courts of Justice.
Aaron Brady was found guilty of the murder of Det Gda Adrian Donohoe by an 11 to one majority jury verdict at the Central Criminal Court on August 11 and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum time served of 40 years.
During hearings at his trial, Detective Inspector Mark Phillips of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation said that Hoey was a witness of "some significance" who had provided an alibi for Brady but had later withdrawn that alibi.
At today's contempt hearing in the High Court, Remy Farrell SC for Hoey, told Mr Justice White that the charge of contempt against his client was admitted.
Brendan Grehan SC, on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), said that contempt is neither a summary or indictable offence and the High Court has unlimited jurisdiction in accordance with the principle of proportionality to assess the charge.
Det Insp Phillips told Mr Grehan that Brady's trial had commenced in late January of this year and witness orders had been directed by the court in respect of witnesses set out in the book of evidence, which included Hoey.
Det Insp Phillips agreed with counsel that Sergeant Paul Gill had given evidence of serving a witness order on the accused man on March 5 for his attendance at the trial.
Mr Grehan said Detective Padraic O'Reilly previously gave evidence of calling to Hoey's home on March 3 and advising him that he was required to attend at the Central Criminal Court on the following day.
Hoey indicated that he wanted to speak with his solicitor but was advised by the detective that a warrant would be issued if he did not attend, said the barrister.
Det Insp Phillips told Mr Grehan that Hoey did not attend court on March 4 and a warrant was issued for his arrest the following day.
However, solicitor Danny McNamee, for Hoey, made contact with gardaí in early October and informed them that his client wished to present himself for the execution of the warrant. Hoey presented himself at The Criminal Courts of Justice on October 5 and the warrant was executed. He was then released on bail.
Det Insp Phillips agreed that Hoey had "significant evidence" to give at Brady's trial if he had attended.
Under cross-examination by Mr Farrell, representing Hoey, Det Insp Phillips agreed that his client had made a statement to gardaí around seven weeks after the shooting of Det Gda Adrian Donohoe in which he said that Brady had arrived at his house on the evening of January 25, 2013.
There was a suggestion that Brady and Hoey had watched a film together and Brady had stayed in the house for a period of time, said Mr Farrell.
The lawyer said that Brady and Hoey had been friends since third class in primary school and both men were living in the same house at the time.
Mr Farrell said his client made a second statement to gardaí on September 12, 2017, concerning the events of January 25, 2013, and Hoey was invited to reflect on the accuracy of what was in his initial statement.
The detective agreed with counsel that the second statement, where Hoey had withdrawn the content of his first statement, was brief. In the second statement, Hoey said the events recited may well have occurred but they had probably taken place on the day prior to January 25.
The detective further agreed that Hoey attending the Garda station for a second time was akin to him "facing up to things" and a significant statement for the prosecution in the trial.
Mr Farrell said that "certain elements" had made contact with Hoey and his father in advance of Brady's trial and "these elements" had intimated that it might not be in Hoey's best interest to attend Brady's trial.
Mr Farrell put it to the witness that whatever was said had certainly caused Hoey and his family to take the view that these were "implicit threats" backed by criminal or paramilitary elements.
"I'm not party to the conversation that took place but ultimately he did not appear to give evidence," replied Det Insp Phillips.
The barrister put it to the detective that Hoey and his family had taken "a meaning or a view" from what was said. "I can understand that happening," replied the witness.
In re-examination, Mr Grehan said that perhaps some kind of pressure had "been brought to bear" on Hoey and asked the witness if complaints had been made to gardaí about this. "No," replied Det Insp Phillips.
The detective agreed with Mr Grehan that quite a number of people in various communities from north and south of the border had come to court to give evidence in the trial and done their civic duty despite being under pressure at the time.
In summary, Mr Grehan told the court that an entire trial could "be set at nought" if witnesses failed to attend court to give evidence.
Passing sentence, Mr Justice White said failing to attend court on foot of a witness order was a serious matter.
Mr Justice White highlighted that it is very important that "good people" stand up and respect the rule of law and civility of the Irish Constitution and stressed that this type of behaviour is unacceptable.
Addressing the parties, Mr Justice White said he was very reluctant to impose any form of sentence on Hoey as he is "a very decent human being". However, he said the court had to be mindful of its duty and therefore must impose a short custodial sentence on Hoey to mark the seriousness of the matter.