Dublin man jailed for five years for IRA membership

FBI agent uncovered Dublin-based plot to buy a grenade, handgun and Semtex online

A Dublin man found guilty of IRA membership following a trial in which an FBI agent uncovered a Dublin-based plot to buy a grenade and Semtex online has been jailed by the Special Criminal Court for five years.

Jonathan Hawthorn (45) of Ballintyre Downs, Ballinteer, Dublin 16 was found guilty by the three-judge court in July of membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA on September 14th, 2016.

Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy remarked on Monday that she was satisfied Hawthorn was a "trusted member" of an unlawful organisation who received delivery of explosive material.

It was clear his conduct involved deliberate and intentional behaviour, she said, which had the potential for a significant degree of harm.


Hawthorn was photographed receiving the mock-up delivery, which was designed by gardaí to look like a grenade and explosives. He also had the materials on him in a sports bag when arrested a short time later.

His co-accused James Geraghty (61) of Dolphin House in Dolphin's Barn, and Donal O'Ceallaigh (33) with an address on Beach Road, Sandymount were found not guilty of IRA membership in July and walked free from court.

Passing sentence, Ms Justice Kennedy presiding at the non-jury court, said Semtex and an F-1 Soviet fragmentation grenade were ordered from the dark web by an individual who is not before the court.

Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said the maximum sentence was eight years in prison but the headline sentence in this case was six and a half years imprisonment.

Mitigating factors

The judge said the mitigating factors in Hawthorn’s sentence were his family circumstances and the effect his incarceration would have on them.

Referring to Hawthorn, the judge said it must also consider his previous conviction for a public order offence in 2008.

Sentencing the defendant on Monday, Ms Justice Kennedy presiding, sitting with judge Gerard Griffin and judge Gerard Haughton sentenced Hawthorn to five years imprisonment, backdated to July 16th when he went into custody.

At Monday's sentence hearing, Det Supt Michael Gibbons from the Special Detective Unit, summarised the facts of the case.

Det Supt Gibbons told prosecuting counsel Paul Greene SC an undercover FBI agent was monitoring the dark-web, an area of the internet sometimes used to buy and sell illegal materials including explosives.

Through AlphaBay, a market place where people trade on the dark-web in exchange for Bitcoin, the FBI agent was contacted by a user named Meat Cleaver.

On September 3rd, 2016 Meat Cleaver ordered Semtex, an F-1 Soviet fragmentation grenade, a handgun and 100 rounds of ammunition.

This FBI agent contacted the Special Detective Unit, Det Sgt Gibbons said, and an operation was put in place to find out where these items would go.

It was to be delivered to a “Mr Gerathy” at James Geraghty’s address in Dolphin House, the court heard.


The agent told Meat Cleaver the weapons would be disguised as play dough for children and made to look like a gift.

Gardaí then set up a fake DHL delivery of items made to look like what was ordered, complete with gift wrapping.

Gardaí monitored the delivery which was carried out on the morning of September 14th, 2016.

An undercover member of the National Surveillance Unit photographed Hawthorn receiving the package on a balcony at Dolphin House and signing for it using Mr Geraghty’s name.

Hawthorn was arrested later that morning at St James’s Hospital with a bag containing the dummy grenade and fake Semtex.

The defendant has four previous convictions for public order offences including one for violent disorder in 2008.

Under cross-examination, Det Sgt Gibbons agreed with Kathleen Leader SC, defending, that Meat Cleaver was not her client.

Counsel handed into the court a number of testimonials including a letter from Hawthorn’s partner, who said he had been a “great family man” and an active parent through the years. “His son has become very anxious as a result of the absence of his father from his life,” she added.

‘Good father’

The barrister told the court her client’s partner is realistic and has accepted the fact Hawthorn will be in custody but asked that it would be for “at least a time as possible”.

In mitigating factors, Ms Leader asked the court to consider that her client was a family man who had been convicted of a serious offence by this court but there was another side to him saying: “He is a good father and has been supportive to his family.”