A WEIGHTLIFTING enthusiast has been found guilty of IRA membership 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.
Smith was arrested along with five men travelling in 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 a black hat with two holes cut in to it and two shotgun cartridges.
The non-jury court heard that a garda search of a silver Volkswagen Bora car driven by the accused man 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.
Returning judgment this morning, presiding judge Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan said the court found Smith “knowingly and willingly took part in a planned criminal enterprise” and this supported the belief evidence of a garda chief superintendent as to his membership of the IRA.
Mr Justice Sheehan said the court found it could rely on the belief evidence of Chief Superintendent Jim Sheridan that Neil Smith was a member of the IRA on August 8, but in accordance with established principles would not act on this belief alone.
He said the court had carefully considered the evidence of Neil Smith and found it was unable to rely on this or on his denials of membership, and in particular did not accept his account of simply arriving at the home of another man in Dundalk on the morning in question for a “training session”.
Mr Justice Sheehan said the court found that Smith had “knowingly and willingly took part in a planned criminal enterprise” and was satisfied that sixteen bags of icing sugar found in the Ford Galaxy car were intended for use by some person or persons in an explosive substance.
He said that Smith had chosen to untruthfully answer questions put to him in interviews where Section 2 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 was invoked, which states that certain inferences can be drawn from a failure or refusal to answer material questions relating to arrest. A failure to answer includes giving an answer that is false or misleading.
In his direct evidence, Smith admitted to “foolishly” lying to gardai in interview to cover for his best friend.
Mr Justice Sheehan said that Smith explained he had made the decision to admit to the lies only when giving evidence as it was the first time he had to consider the matter, but the court did not find this answer credible.
He said the questions put to Smith in interview were clearly material to the investigation and that the court was entitled to draw adverse inferences from the untruthful answers.
Mr Justice Sheehan said these adverse inferences corroborated the belief evidence of Chief Superintendent Sheridan and the court was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Neil Smith was a member of the IRA on August 8, 2010.
He remanded Smith, who made little reaction to the judgment, in custody until December 10 next for sentencing.