Man had explosive device components in college locker, court hears

Sentencing hearing for man guilty of IRA membership arrested before Prince Charles’s visit

Britain’s Prince Charles  and his wife Camilla at the the Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, part of the Prince of Wales’s visit to the island of Ireland in May 2015. Photograph: EPA/Paul McErlane

Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Camilla at the the Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, part of the Prince of Wales’s visit to the island of Ireland in May 2015. Photograph: EPA/Paul McErlane


A Dublin man who pleaded guilty to IRA membership was arrested in the run-up to Prince Charles’s visit to Ireland and had explosive device components in his locker at Maynooth University, the Special Criminal Court has heard.

The evidence was heard during the sentencing hearing of Donal O Coisdealbha (25), of Abbeyfield, Killester, Dublin 5, who pleaded guilty to membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hÉireann, otherwise the IRA within the State on May 13th, 2015.

At Monday’s sentence hearing, Det Insp Bill Hanrahan of the Special Detective Unit outlined the facts of the case.

He told prosecuting counsel Tara Burns SC that O Coisdealbha was arrested on May 13th, 2015 and detained at Irishtown Garda station. Det Insp Hanrahan said that the arrest arose from a Garda investigation that had been ongoing for a period of time prior to May 2015.

In January 2015, the accused was observed at a licensed premises, the Coachmans Inn in Swords, meeting with “a particular individual” who has a conviction before the Special Criminal Court and who is suspected of having a significant role within the IRA.

Further meetings occurred between the two men in the Coachmans Inn in February, March, April and May of that year.

In relation to the meetings in April and May, audio surveillance was conducted by gardaí.

Glasnevin meeting

The court also heard that accused was seen in the company of two brothers at a location in Violet Hill in Glasnevin on March 14th, 2015.

A sergeant on normal duty noticed three individuals acting suspiciously and stopped them in the vicinity at the back entrance to Glasnevin Cemetery and 400m from the Cross of Sacrifice monument.

Det Insp Hanrahan agreed with counsel that a further meeting took place at the Coachmans Inn between the accused and “a particular individual” on April 19th, 2015.

The accused was seen leaving the premises and travelling into the city centre. O Coisdealbha was then observed with the two brothers at the Pint pub on Tara Street, which lasted 20 minutes.

On May 9th, 2015 O Coisdealbha was again seen in the company of the two brothers driving to a house at Harbour Court in Courtown in Wexford.

In the course of travel from Dublin to Wexford, the accused was observed buying packets of cling film.

Surveillance was placed on the house in Courtown throughout the day.

A further meeting occurred between the accused and “a particular individual” on May 10th, 2015.

Then on May 13th, 2015 a number of searches were conducted at Harbour Court in Courtown and in Profector Life Sciences in the National University of Ireland Maynooth, Co Kildare.

When the house at Courtown in Wexford was searched, two areas were noted in it as areas which contained explosive devices.

“To the right of the entrance hallway was a bathroom, a water butt tied to a hand trolley,” said Ms Burns. “When that water butt was opened, there was quite a substantial amount of explosive devices found contained in it – four improvised rockets, two larger than the remaining two. The larger rocket was found disassembled within the water butt.”

Semtex, five phones, a time power unit, a broken circuit board, a chord of cortex and two detonators, one commercial and one homemade, were also found within the water butt.

Electrical components found

Det Insp Hanrahan agreed with counsel that other smaller electrical components were also found in the water butt, which were capable of being used within an explosive device.

A plastic crate containing Semtex, a large bag of fertiliser (which was ground down to make a homemade explosive), a fire hydrant and a booster tube were found in the second area of the house.

The court heard that when these items was examined by the Garda Ballistic Unit,the powders were found to be explosive in nature and all the devices were found to be explosive substances.

Packets of cling film were also found in the course of the search at Harbour Court.

A pair of gardening gloves was also found within the plastic crate in the kitchen. A mixed DNA profile was found on the gloves.

The mixed DNA profile reflected a mixed DNA profile between Mr O Coisdealbha and one of the brothers.

The court heard that a search was also conducted at the accused’s workplace at Maynooth University on May 13th. A time power unit and a broken circuit board were found in a specific locker, which only O Coisdealbha had access to.

“Within the search at Harbour Court a time power unit had also been found within the water butt and a broken circuit,” said counsel. “When they were analysed, it transpired they fitted together.”

The court heard that the accused was arrested on May 13th, 2015, and that he denied membership of the IRA during the course of his detention.

The court also heard that two improvised explosive devices were found in a car at Mitchelstown in Navan, and that O Coisdealbha’s DNA profile was found on one of the devices.

Ms Burns said the explosive device was a test-tube containing a PIC chip, while the time power unit, which was in O Coisdealbha’s locker in Maynooth, also had a PIC chip with it. Counsel said PIC chips had not been encountered previously within the jurisdiction.

Audio surveillance

The court heard that O Coisdealbha and “a particular individual” can be heard discussing the Violet Hill incident in audio surveillance, which was taken from the Coachman Inns in April and May.

There was also discussions about problems making solid fuel and black powder.

“Also in the course of discussions, the particular individual directed O Coisdealbha to meet with another named individual who was previously before the Special Criminal Court. They discussed plans to develop an artillery rocket,” said Ms Burns.

Counsel told the court that the two individuals met on May 10th, when the proposed event was further discussed.

“It is clear from that conversation that preparations are well advanced and afoot, and it is indicated that a bike and detonators have been got by the other individual for Mr O Coisdealbha,” counsel said. “He is told by the other individual that it is his [the other man’s] operation and they are ready to go.”

Det Insp Hanrahan agreed with counsel that indications were that the event was to happen around May 19th, when Prince Charles was visiting the jurisdiction.

“There was a reference made that a timer was to be used with a 14-minute delay and the blame was to be given to a different organisation within the IRA,” said the garda.

This was the part of the conversation that caused gardaí to move on May 13th.

The court heard that O Coisdealbha has no previous convictions, is a single man and lives at home with his parents.

Valuable guilty plea

In mitigating factors, Sean Gillane SC, for O Coisdealbha, asked the court to consider his client’s very early guilty plea, which he said was of particular value because the trial would have taken a considerable amount of time.

“This is a public acknowledgement by him of his wrongdoing. He is now being punished for it and it also affects the prospect for his future,” said Mr Gillane.

The barrister said his client was educated to third level and at the time of his arrest he was employed in the biomedical field. “It’s clear from his background that he is someone capable of a deep and rich intellectual and cultural life,” he said.

Testimonials handed up to the court included a letter from a former president of Conradh na Gaeilge, who spoke of the accused “in positive terms” and his “capabilities.”

A letter from O Coisdealbha was also handed into court, in which he set out his current position and expressed a hope that upon his eventual release from prison he could make a positive contribution to society.

The court heard that the maximum sentence for belonging to a dissident republican terrorist organisation is eight years.

Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, presiding, with Judge Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin and Judge James Faughnan, remanded O Coisdealbha in custody until December 6th, when he will be sentenced.