Wednesday 18 September 2019

Grandson of former Dublin Lord Mayor among two men jailed after being caught with explosives

Mairtin Manning arrives in court for a hearing in 2017
Picture: Arthur Carron
Mairtin Manning arrives in court for a hearing in 2017 Picture: Arthur Carron
Christy Burke

Alison O'Riordan

Two men, including the grandson of former Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke, have received sentences totalling 14 years at the Special Criminal Court after they were caught with four kilograms of the explosive TNT and a hand grenade in a densely populated area of Dublin city.

The non-jury court heard that the Army Bomb Disposal Unit were called to the scene and 40 premises had to be evacuated after the men were intercepted by gardai.

Declan McDermott (30) was today jailed for seven years while his co-accused Mairtin Manning (24), the grandson of Mr Burke, was also sentenced to seven years in prison.

The two Dublin men pleaded guilty last month before the three-judge court after they were caught with explosives inside a shoe box, which was found in the passenger foot-well of a taxi in the city.

The former Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke was in court today seated with the men's families and supporters for the sentence hearing.

Presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt said that one of the ten 400 gram blocks of TNT was sufficient to make an under-car bomb and therefore the quantity in question was “very considerable”.

McDermott and Manning had acted as “couriers” and played an important role, commented the judge. Furthermore, they were trusted by the organisers of these activities, he added.

McDermott and Manning, whose addresses are not before the non-jury court, pleaded guilty last month to knowingly possessing an explosive substance to wit ten 400 gram blocks of TNT and the explosive head of an RGD33 hand grenade at Spring Garden Street, Dublin 3, on June 2, 2017.

A third man, John O'Brien (56) of North Great Clarence Street, Dublin 1, also admitted to knowingly rendering assistance to an unlawful organisation, in the furtherance of an unlawful object, to wit, possession of an explosive substance under such circumstances as to give rise to a reasonable suspicion that it was not in its possession for a lawful object, at his home address on June 2 2017.

O'Brien was today jailed for one year and six months.

Passing sentence today, Mr Justice Hunt said that due to the timely intervention by gardai, no harm had resulted.

The judge said that “further processing” of the items would have been required and that “it cannot be said that any of the men would have had a further role in the processing".

Having regard to the gravity of the offence, the judge said the maximum sentence for the explosives offence was 14 years in prison whereas the charge of rendering assistance to an unlawful organisation was punishable by up to eight years in jail.

Referring to McDermott and Manning, the headline sentence in their case was nine years and six months imprisonment, he said.

The main mitigating factors were the men’s guilty pleas and the fact neither of them had previous criminal convictions, said the judge.

“Both men have positive employment and family history,” he commented, adding that there was no basis to differentiate between the two defendants.

Sentencing McDermott and Manning, the judge said the court would reduce the headline sentence of nine years and six months and impose a sentence of seven years imprisonment on each defendant, backdated to April this year when they went into custody.

Referring to O’Brien, Mr Justice Hunt said he had assisted by agreeing to store a “very significant” amount of explosive material. He had a difficult personal life as well as a number of illnesses, he said.

The headline sentence in O’Brien’s case was three years in prison. Further mitigating factors included his early guilty plea and the fact he was now in his fifties with no previous convictions, outlined the judge.

Following this, the court imposed a sentence of one year and six months on O’Brien and backdated it to April 23 this year.

At last month’s sentence hearing, Detective Superintendent Michael Gibbons of the Special Detective Unit (SDU), summarised the facts of the case.

Det Supt Gibbons told prosecuting counsel Fiona Murphy SC that surveillance was conducted after the SDU received confidential information.

The witness said that the National Surveillance Unit (NSU) observed Manning leave his house on Ballybough Road in Dublin 3 at 5.52pm on June 2. He was carrying a sports bag which had a shoulder strap and it appeared to be “quite light”, the court heard.

Following this, Manning walked over Ballybough Bridge before he arrived at a house on North Great Clarence Street at 5.48pm.

O’Brien opened the door and Manning “ducked inside”, said the witness. There was a brief interaction between the two men and Manning proceeded to walk 10 to 15 yards away from the house. However, O’Brien signalled to Manning to come back to the house and the two men went inside and closed the door.

When Manning emerged from the house, he was carrying the shoulder bag which looked “significantly heavier”, Det Supt Gibbons said, adding that he then walked in the direction of Dunne Street in Ballybough.

Meanwhile, McDermott had drove his taxi into a cul de sac on Dunne Street and parked up. The taxi meter in the car was turned off at 7.59pm, said Det Supt Gibbons.

Manning then turned into the cul de sac and got into the front-passenger seat of the taxi.

The taxi then reversed onto Dunne Street and drove to Portland Row before turning onto the North Strand Road in the direction of Spring Garden Street.

The witness said there was an audio recording of the two men in the taxi and inferences can be drawn from their level of knowledge.

At this point, gardai stopped the taxi and both men were arrested for membership of an unlawful organisation as well as possession of explosives before being brought to Clontarf Garda Station.

Det Supt Gibbons said a shoe box was inside the sports bag carried by Manning, which was located in the footwell of the taxi.

The Army Bomb Disposal Unit attended the scene and inspected the items.

The street at Spring Garden Street was cornered off from 6.15pm until 9.55pm that night and forty premises had to be evacuated, the court heard.

A warrant was sought for the house on North Great Clarence Street and O’Brien was arrested for membership of an unlawful organisation as well as possession of explosives. He was later conveyed to Raheny Garda Station.

The items in the shoe box included ten 400 gram blocks of TNT, plastic wrapping for the TNT as well as the explosive head of a hand grenade.

Det Supt Gibbons informed the court that TNT is similar to the explosive Semtex but perhaps not as strong. “One of these 400 gram blocks is sufficient to make an under-car bomb and sufficient to damage the car; it may or may not kill the driver,” he added.

Under cross-examination, Det Supt Gibbons agreed with Giollaiosa O Lideadha SC, for McDermott, that his client has been working as a taxi driver since 2014 and has a two-year-old child with his partner.

The witness also agreed with Michael O’Higgins SC, for Manning, that his client was the “most visible part” of the operation and was allocated this role because he was not someone well known to gardai at the time.

The court heard that Manning is a plumber and plays “a full and active role” as father to his six-month old child.

Following this, the witness agreed with Kerida Naidoo SC for O’Brien that his client was at the “lower end” of this incident.

In his submissions, Mr O Lideadha told the court that there was particular value attached to his client's guilty plea.

In mitigating factors, Mr O’Higgins said that Manning has had cause to think carefully about his own life as well as his own life goals as a result of recently becoming a father. 

Mr O’Higgins informed the court that Manning’s grandfather is Christy Burke, who is a local councillor in the area and he [Burke] had previously been convicted of membership of the “Old IRA” and was closely aligned to the late politician Tony Gregory.

In his submissions, Mr O’Higgins said that his client was a highly regarded young man and is heavily involved in his community. His prospects of rehabilitation are very high, he outlined.

Counsel handed into the court a number of testimonials, which, he said included a letter from independent Dublin City Councillor Mr Burke.

Kerida Naidoo SC, for O’Brien, told the court that this was a serious but isolated incident and there was a number of background factors to take into account including his history of depression.

“He became increasingly isolated in his life and for a number of decades he never left the house,” said Mr Naidoo, adding that he had been living a “hermetical life” for the last twenty years and had suffered personal tragedies.

The most important mitigating factor for O’Brien was that he was initially charged with the substantive offence and the DPP had later charged him with knowingly rendering assistance to an unlawful organisation, said Mr Naidoo.

The barrister further submitted that any person with an illness finds prison more difficult.

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