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Judgment reserved in trial of weightlifter accused of IRA membership

THE Special Criminal Court has reserved judgment in the trial of a weightlifting enthusiast accused of IRA membership who was arrested during a garda operation against dissident republicans.

Neil Smith (35), of Tubberfinn, Donore, Drogheda, Co Louth, has 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 court has heard that Smith was arrested when gardai stopped two cars which had been under surveillance in Co Louth. Smith was the front seat passenger in one of the cars.

Chief Superintendent Jim Sheridan gave evidence that he believed Smith was an IRA member.

But Smith in evidence told his defence counsel, Dominic McGinn SC, that powerlifting was the "number one thing" in his life and that he had represented Ireland internationally in the weightlifting sport.

He said he was "totally surprised" when gardai stopped the Ford Galaxy and that he was "certainly not" a member of the IRA and had no sympathies toward them.

The trial heard from surveillance gardai who gave evidence on the movements of five men travelling in two cars - a black BMW car and a beige Ford Galaxy MPV-on the morning of August 8.

When gardai stopped the BMW, they found a sawn-off shotgun loaded with two cartridges, a black balaclava and a Hallowe'en mask. Follow-up enquiries revealed that the car had been stolen and fitted with false number plates.

Mr Smith 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. It is the prosecution case that the two cars were driving in convoy.