RIRA trio go free due to flawed arrest warrants
Three dissident republicans convicted in the UK of trying to buy weapons and explosives on behalf of the Real IRA walked free from Portlaoise Prison last night.
High Court judge Mr Justice Gerard Hogan ordered the men be released "forthwith" after finding the court lacks the power to retrospectively adapt defective warrants.
The three Co Louth men were detained here using these warrants following their transfer from England in 2006.
The decision means that Fintan O'Farrell, Declan Rafferty and Michael McDonald, whom the State sought to keep in jail until late 2016, were freed after more than 13 years in custody.
The three men were arrested by Slovak police in July 2001 after they had met two agents who they believed were Iraqi arms dealers.
The "dealers" turned out to be undercover British agents. Following their arrest, all three were extradited to England.
In 2002, they pleaded guilty at a London court to charges under the UK's 2000 Terrorism Act and conspiracy to cause explosions in London.
The men were initially given sentences of 30 years which, on appeal, were reduced to terms of 28 years. All three were transferred to Ireland and were held at the maximum security Portlaoise Prison.
Micheal P O'Higgins SC, for O'Farrell and Rafferty, both from Carlingford, and McDonald, from Dundalk, sought and secured a High Court inquiry into the lawfulness of their continued detention in Portlaoise.
Last month, Mr Justice Hogan ruled the warrants detaining the three were defective on grounds arising from a recent Supreme Court decision in the Sweeney case.
The English regime provides for release of a prisoner on licence after they have served two-thirds of their sentences or, for those jailed after 2005, one half of their sentences.
The Irish system does not allow for release on licence - but provides for 25pc remission.
Mr Justice Hogan said, had the three men remained in England, they would have been entitled to release on licence after serving sentences of some 18 years and eight months. However, the 2006 warrants under which they were detained here recorded their sentences as 28 years and were therefore defective.
Following the ruling, the State asked for a stay on the order releasing the men, pending Supreme Court appeal. However, the judge said he did not have the power to grant a stay in this particular action.