THE Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) has reduced a man's five-year sentence for membership of the IRA by six months.
Gerard McGarrigle (47), of Mount Carmel Heights, Strabane, Co Tyrone, had appealed severity of the sentence imposed on him in November 2010 following a 15-day trial at the Special Criminal Court (SCC) for membership of an illegal organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, in February 2010.
Two co-accused, Desmond Donnelly (59),Drumall, Lisnarick, Co Fermanagh and Jim Murphy (62), Floraville, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, were convicted of the same offence arising out of the same circumstances.
They were each sentenced to three years and nine months.
All three appealed against their convictions and last July the CCA dismissed their appeals.
McGarrigle also appealed against severity of sentence and today the three judge CCA - comprising Mr Justice Donal O'Donnell, Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan - ruled his sentence was "perhaps" excessive compared to his co-accused.
At their original trial, the court heard the three men were arrested at a garda checkpoint outside Letterkenny in the early hours of February 22, 2010.
Gardaí uncovered an imitation firearm, cable ties, latex gloves, bin liners, a pair of kevlar gloves and insulation tape after a search of the vehicle the men were travelling in.
The three, who denied at their trial that they were members of an illegal organisation, told gardaí that they had driven to Letterkenny in the hope of securing security work at a nightclub in the vicinity of Port Road.
In his appeal against severity of sentence, McGarrigle's counsel Diarmuid McGuinness argued a 33 per cent differential between the sentence for his client and those for the co-accused was not just.
Although McGarrigle had previously been convicted of a terrorist-related offence of attempted murder of a member of the security forces in Northern Ireland, he had served his sentence by the time he was arrested in Letterkenny and had not come to the attention of the gardai or the PSNI, counsel said.
Una NiRaifeartaigh SC, for the DPP, said the differentiation between the sentences was quite appropriate given the seriousness of McGarrigle's previous conviction. The SCC had not taken into account that he also had two other terrorist-related convictions when he was a juvenile, she said.
The SCC took account of the fact that the two co-accused were older than McGarrigle and had a litany of health problems and that would be a factor in any prison term they would serve, she said. Donnelly was also the sole carer for his older sister, she said.
Giving the court's decision, Mr Justice O'Donnell said the SCC was entitled to give a longer sentence to McGarrigle.
Under law, the maximum was eight years for what is an extremely serious offence of membership of an organisation which had "brought untold misery to the people of Ireland, north and south", he said.
Not only did McGarrigle have three previous terrorist-related convictions, he had 37 convictions for other offences, he said.
Donnelly had 60 previous "ordinary convictions" while Murphy had no previous, he said.
McGarrigle's record was worse than the other two and the SCC was entitled to give a heavier sentence, the judge said.
However, the fundamental feature of the case was that all three were convicted of the same offence and without taking from the seriousness of McGarrigle's previous convictions, the court had come to the conclusion that the one-third differentiation between his sentence and that of his co-accused was "perhaps excessive and the court is disposed to reducing the sentence by six months."