A Co Westmeath man has been jailed for three years for possession of an improvised explosive device.
The Special Criminal Court heard evidence on Wednesday from a member of the Special Detective Unit that the man was seen leaving a house "used to construct explosive devices for the IRA".
Last month, Brendan Hope (49) of Springfield Cottages, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, pleaded guilty to possession of an improvised explosive device (IED) containing shotgun propellant powder, a 12-gauge shotgun cartridge, a 71mm length of cardboard tube, an igniferous fuse, clingfilm and a hair bobbin at St Matthews Park, Ballymahon, Co Longford on June 24th, 2014.
At Wednesday’s sentence hearing, Det Sgt William Hanrahan, of the Special Detective Unit, summarised the facts of the case.
He told prosecuting counsel Ronan Kennedy BL that on the day of the offence, he and a number of colleagues were briefed about an ongoing investigation into IRA activity in the Longford area.
The detective said the address at St Matthews Park was being used to “construct explosive devices on behalf of the IRA” and was under surveillance.
The court heard that Hope was observed leaving the house, with his left hand in the front pocket of his jacket. At the estate’s exit, he got into the passenger side of a blue Peugeot van.
The van drove along the R392, from Ballymahon toward Mullingar, and Det Sgt Dermot Lawlor followed, suspecting there was a pipe-bomb inside, the court heard.
The van was stopped, Hope removed from the passenger side, and Det Sgt Lawlor saw what he believed to be an IED in the passenger’s side footwell.
Hope was arrested and taken to Longford Garda station, where he was interviewed.
In the first interview, he admitted possession of the explosive device and that he had made it. When asked what it was for he replied, “Nothing in particular, just seeing if it would work, just a firework type thing you know.”
Hope told gardaí he made the device in the kitchen of his home in Mullingar.
Gardaí asked him where he got the gunpowder from and Hope said he had found a shotgun cartridge while walking his dog along the canal two days previously, the court heard.
He denied he had made the device for the IRA and said that he had kept it in his possession but had forgotten it was there.
Gardaí told Hope that they had searched his house in Mullingar and found no evidence of a device having been made there.
In the subsequent interview, the court heard, Hope changed his story. He said he had found the device in a laneway behind the house at St Matthew’s Park five minutes before he left and that he had picked it up because he wanted to know what it was.
Hope has no previous convictions, the court heard.
Det Insp Hanrahan agreed with defence counsel Bernard Condon SC that the “crude” device was “at the lower end of the scale of capacity” of this type of explosive device.
Mr Condon submitted to the court that mitigating circumstances were Hope’s early guilty plea and the time already spent in custody.
Delivering sentence, Mr Justice Paul Butler, presiding with Judge Alison Lindsay and Judge Flann Brennan, said, "A distinguishing feature in the case was that the device was made up in cardboard tubing rather than pipe-bombs this court sadly is used to dealing with."
He said that the court accepted it was “not as lethal a device” and that the court “must distinguish between more lethal and less lethal”.
Hope was sentenced to three years in prison, backdated to July 31st last year.