Miriam Lord: From Irish pride to Isis bride, we have not heard the last of the Lisa Smith story

A 15-month sentence for the former soldier who joined a terrorist organisation with ‘eyes wide open’ and has never shown remorse for her actions

For the last time, Lisa Smyth rounded the corner and walked briskly towards the Criminal Courts of Justice.

She knows the drill by now.

Stoney faced and staring straight ahead, she took the steps quickly as the cameras closed in and hurried through the door.

There had been a view among some court observers that the photographers would get a second chance before the morning was out. It wasn’t to be. An hour later, Smith was beginning a 15-month jail sentence for membership of the terrorist organisation, Islamic State.


Arguments last week from her defence lawyer for a fully suspended sentence were unsuccessful and his request following sentencing that his client be released on bail pending an appeal was refused.

Lisa Smith’s story is astonishing, already conveniently condensed into one racy line – From Irish pride to Isis bride – to top the many breathless accounts of the years she spent “enveloped in the black flag” of Islamic State, as the prosecution put it during her trial.

When the former soldier and flight attendant on the government jet is released from prison she will not be short of offers from writers and publishers eager to tell all on her behalf to a world hungry for detail.

But the only headline that mattered on Friday was the “headline sentence” handed down by the three-judge non-jury court.

There can be an element of circus and sensation about big criminal trials, but you don’t get members of the public hanging from the rafters in the tightly policed confines of the Special Criminal Court. The tension and sense of occasion which builds in other courts before sentencing is missing here.

Smith (40), wearing a sage green linen tunic under that now familiar black waist-length hijab, waited for her case to come up while lawyers shuttled in and out with legal housekeeping matters. She sat in the back row of court number 11, chatting away quietly to her solicitor as the minutes passed.

The only indication that this was the closing day of a unique and very high-profile trial was the three rows of journalists taking up an inordinate amount of the space in the compact wood-panelled courtroom.

There was one false start when the judges appeared and the convicted woman walked towards the bench to hear her fate. But they were dealing with another matter so she returned to her seat against the wall, clutching her small black shoulder bag in front of her body with both hands.

Finally, at 11.20 in the morning, she took her place in the dark wood of the dock.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, delivered the judgment. At an adjourned sentencing hearing last week, he told the mother-of-one who gave birth to her daughter five years ago in a Syrian refugee camp to take “no false comfort” from his decision to allow her to remain on bail until Friday’s sitting.

When she sat down, the vibrant green tunic was obscured by the ledge, leaving just a hunched black silhouette alone in the middle of a long bench. One female prison officer sat at the end of it and a male prison officer stood a little further away, against the door through which they escort their prisoners.

This daughter of Dundalk, who converted to Islam and left her Army job in 2011, turned her back to the body of the court, twisted sideways and faced the wall to the left of the judges’ bench. This “lovely girl” who served in the military for a decade and was remembered by the likes of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former minister for justice Dermot Ahern as a helpful and engaging crew member on the government jet back in the day, now a convicted member of a deranged Islamic terrorist organisation.

But that was in a previous life. She listened as Tony Hunt outlined how they reached their “headline” sentence and why they set it at the lower end of the scale, given that the maximum term could have been eight years.

He listed the undoubted degradation and deprivation she suffered as a result of her decision to live under a barbaric regime in Syria and accepted that she was the victim of domestic violence. He acknowledged she is now the mother of a young child.

But this sister of Islamic State went into the enterprise with “eyes wide open” and has never shown remorse for her actions.

It was extremely difficult to hear the judge’s words, delivered in a manner which some might have charitably described as quietly spoken and others as mumbled.

People in the courtroom strained to hear him, but not always successfully. Lisa Smith, sitting closer to the bench, took out a paper tissue and folded it into a neat square as he listed the mitigating circumstances.

She began to dab her eyes with it as they piled up – reasons not to incarcerate her for a lengthy stretch but reminders of the horrors she walked herself into.

By the end of the 10-minute judgment, she had the open tissue and her hand pressed against her face. But there was no sobbing and no sound.

The business of the law is just that. Mr Justice Hunt talked about “a substantial discount” being applicable. “A discount of more than 50 per cent.”

Fifteen months so.

Michael O’Higgins pressed again on behalf of his client. “We are not going back over this case,” insisted the judge, perfectly audible on this occasion.

The forceful O’Higgins continued throwing the kitchen sink at the bench as Tony Hunt threw exasperated hands in the air on behalf of his two fellow judges.

So what about bail pending an appeal?

The generously sideburned Sean Gillane SC, for the DPP, said he couldn’t entertain such a suggestion and the three judges left for a few minutes to discuss the matter.

The prisoner stood up, leaned on the rail and talked to her legal team.

The judges returned. “As far as we’re concerned there is no basis for such an application.” And that was it.

Lisa Smith would not be leaving by the front door this time. She did not react to the pronouncement, which was met by silence in the body of the court.

Outside, the microphones were set up and the cameras were waiting. But the investigating gardaí were not minded to come out and make a public statement on the steps. It wasn’t the usual type of policing success and simply wasn’t an occasion for celebrating a win.

A statement was issued later in the day by headquarters, thanking the Irish Muslim community for helping the investigation and thanking international law enforcement agencies for their assistance in the case which demonstrated the determination of the Garda “to investigate terrorist offences in accordance with Irish legislation wherever they are committed”.

Passersby wanted to know “What did she get?” “Is she coming out yet?” And even before she was on her way from the courthouse to the prison van, the sums were already done.

“Sure she’ll be out in less than a year” was the verdict from the steps. Meanwhile, the new inmate will be assessed by a prison psychologist who will determine her risk-level of engaging in further jihadi activities.

From Irish pride to Isis bride. One thing is for sure, we haven’t heard the last of the Lisa Smith story.