IRA membership trial collapses

Fri, Jan 27, 2012, 00:00

THE TRIAL of two Louth men on firearms and IRA membership charges at the Special Criminal Court has collapsed.

Presiding judge Mr Justice Paul Butler said that in the interests of justice the court would recuse itself from trying Des Ryan (54) and Neil Smith (34), after finding that a ruling given yesterday was unclear and could be perceived as if the court had made predeterminations on the evidence against the accused men.

The men, both with addresses at Tubberfinn, Donore, Drogheda, had pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful organisation within the State, namely the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Óglaigh na hÉireann, otherwise the IRA on August 8th, 2010. Mr Ryan, a champion power-lifter, also pleaded not guilty to the unlawful possession of a sawn-off, 12-gauge shotgun and two 12-gauge Eley shotgun cartridges at Ecco Road, Dundalk, on the same date.

David Goldberg SC, for Mr Ryan, applied for the trial to be put before a newly constituted court having regard to yesterday’s ruling, which found that on the evidence before the non-jury court Mr Ryan had lied in his interviews with gardaí and was part of a joint enterprise.

Mr Justice Butler said the court made the findings having been asked to rule on whether there was sufficient evidence to go before the jury, and said it was entitled to take a view on the evidence put before it to date. He said the court had “no doubt” that it could deal with the matter “robustly”, but accepted that the meaning of the ruling was not clear and it could be perceived that the court had made predeterminations.

Mr Justice Butler said because Mr Smith is charged with the offence of IRA membership only, despite the “serious overlap” between the evidence against the two men, the court found it would be best to try him separately and thus would also recuse itself from his trial. He remanded both men on continuing bail to appear before the court for mention on February 8th.

In his interviews with gardaí, Mr Ryan said he was not a member of, or sympathiser with, any illegal organisation.

He told gardaí he was returning home from giving a building estimate to a man in Dundalk when “all hell broke loose” and he was arrested by detectives.

The court had heard evidence from gardaí who followed the movements of five men travelling in two cars on the morning of August 8th, 2010. The court heard one of the cars had been stolen from an address in the North three days previously.