Friday 22 September 2017

Promising powerlifter jailed for membership of IRA

Brian Kavanagh

A POTENTIAL world champion powerlifter who was found guilty of IRA membership has received a 12-month sentence at the Special Criminal Court.

Neil Smith (35), of Tubberfinn, Donore, Drogheda, Co Louth, had pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA on August 8, 2010.



The non-jury court found that Smith “knowingly and willingly took part in a planned criminal enterprise” and this supported the belief evidence of Garda Chief Superintendent Jim Sheridan as to his membership of the IRA.



Smith was one of five men arrested after gardai stopped two cars - a black BMW car and a beige Ford Galaxy MPV-which had been travelling in convoy and drove up and down past a Maxol garage on the Castletown Road near Dundalk, Co Louth, on the morning of August 8.



When gardai searched the BMW, they found a sawn-off shotgun loaded with two cartridges, a black balaclava and a Hallowe’en mask. A subsequent search revealed that the car had been fitted with false number plates.



Smith, who has represented Ireland internationally in the powerlifting discipline, was a passenger in the Ford Galaxy, where gardai found a jacket containing two shotgun cartridges and a black hat cut with two holes.



The non-jury court heard that a garda search of both a silver Volkswagen Bora car driven by Neil Smith on the morning of his arrest and the Ford Galaxy yielded quantities of icing sugar, which a ballistics expert testified can be used in home-made explosives.



At a sentence hearing last week, the non-jury court heard from the president of the Irish GPC Powerlifting Association, who said he had the height of respect for Smith, while a reference from Smith’s own powerlifting club said he had the potential to become a world champion.



Passing sentence this morning, presiding judge Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said the court had taken in to account Smith’s previous good character and his impressive references and had noted the penalties imposed on the other men involved in the same criminal enterprise.



He said the court would suspend the final four years of a five-year sentence to commence from the date Smith first entered custody in November.



The driver of the Ford Galaxy, father-of-five Barry O'Brien (40), from Stonetown near Dundalk, received a two-year sentence for IRA membership last July but was released from jail after his sentence was backdated to when he was first entered custody in 2010.



He had pleaded guilty to membership of an illegal organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA on August 8, 2010.



Neil Smith’s friend Des Ryan (54), who was also a passenger in the Ford Galaxy, was given a five-year suspended sentence in May having pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a sawn-off, 12-gauge side-by-side shotgun and two 12 gauge Eley shotgun cartridges at Ecco Road, Dundalk, Co Louth, on August 8, 2010.



Ryan had been observed leaving the BMW and getting in to the Ford Galaxy.



In March the driver of the black BMW, 26-year-old Paul Maguire of Drumleek South, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan was jailed for 18 months. He had pleaded guilty to the possession of the same shotgun and ammunition at the same location on the same date.



A passenger in the BMW, father-of-two Eamon Lennon (36) of Iniskeen, Co Monaghan, was last week sentenced to five years in prison with two suspended after he also pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a sawn-off, 12-gauge side-by-side shotgun and two 12-gauge Eley shotgun cartridges at Ecco Road, Dundalk, Co Louth on August 8, 2010.

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