Sunday 18 August 2019

Grandson of former mayor Christy Burke among two men to be sentenced for possession of TNT and grenade

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Alison O'Riordan

Two men, including the grandson of former Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke, will be sentenced next month at the Special Criminal Court for possessing four kilograms of the explosive TNT and a hand grenade.

The non-jury court heard during today’s sentence hearing that the Army Bomb Disposal Unit recovered the explosives inside a shoe box, which was found in the footwell of a taxi in the city.

A third man, who pleaded guilty to knowingly rendering assistance to an unlawful organisation, will also be sentenced on this date.

Declan McDermott (30) and Martin Manning (24), whose addresses are not before the three-judge court, have pleaded guilty 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.

John O'Brien (56), of North Great Clarence Street, Dublin 1, has 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.

At today’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.

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

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. The barrister asked the court to be as lenient as possible when sentencing Manning.

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.

After the court rose for a few minutes, Mr Justice Tony Hunt said that McDermott and Manning would receive custodial sentences but O’Brien “might fall on the right side of the line”.

The three men were remanded in custody until May 27, when they will be sentenced.

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