Three dissident republicans convicted in the UK of trying to buy weapons and explosives on behalf of the Real IRA are expected to walk free from Portloaise prison later today.
At the High Court today Mr Justice Gerard Hogan directed the three must be released after ruling he lacked the jurisidcition to vary defective warrants under which they are detained.
The decision means the Fintan O’Farrell, Declan Rafferty and Michael McDonald, whom the State sought to keep in jail until late 2016, are likely to be freed some time today.
The three men, who sought arms and financial support from the Iraqi government, were arrested by Slovak police in July 2001 after they had met two agents whom, they believed, were Iraqi arms dealers.
The “dealers” had turned out to be undercover British security agents and, 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 been 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 in Co Laois.
Following the ruling the state asked for a stay on the order releasing the men, pending an appeal of the decision to the Supreme Court. However the Judge said he did not have the power to grant in stay in this particular action.
None of the three men were present in court for the ruling. However relatives, friends and supporters of the three were in court for the ruling.
In their proceedings O’Farrell and Rafferty, both from Carlingford, and McDonald from Dundalk – had asked the High Court to inquire into the lawfulness of their continued detention.
Last month, Mr Justice Hogan ruled the warrants detaining the three were defective but refused to release them until the State had an opportunity to apply to vary the warrants.
Michael O’Higgins SC had argued they were entitled to immediate release on grounds arising from their transfer from the UK and a recent Supreme Court decision here - in the Sweeney case - directing the release of an Irishman transferred here from jail in England due to significant differences between the sentencing regimes here and in England/Wales.
In his judgement on the case of the three men last month, Mr Justice Hogan said the British sentencing system involved a legal entitlement to automatic release after service of two-thirds of the sentence and that went to the legal nature of the sentence imposed by the English judiciary.
In contrast, the Irish system of remission, normally one quarter, was fundamentally a matter of administration of the sentence by the executive of the receiving State.
The Supreme Court had noted the relevant laws on the transfer of prisoners envisaged the legal effect of the sentence was to be governed by the law of the sentencing State and, in this case, that was the law of England and Wales. The effect of the Sweeney decision meant the description in the warrants detaining the men was defective and could not stand.
Having considered whether there was power to have the defective warrant amended, the judge today said he had concluded the High Court had no power to correct the warrant. In those and other circumstances, the men must be freed.