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Court hears IRA man hid explosive device components in Maynooth University

CourtsBy Sunday World
Evidence was heard during a sentencing hearing at the Special Criminal Court
Evidence was heard during a sentencing hearing at the Special Criminal Court

A Dublin man who pleaded guilty to IRA membership was arrested in the run-up to Prince Charles' visit to Ireland and had explosive device components in his locker at Maynooth University, the Special Criminal Court has heard.

The evidence was heard during the sentencing hearing of Donal O Coisdealbha (25), of Abbeyfield, Killester in Dublin 5, who pleaded guilty to membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hÉireann otherwise the IRA within the State on May 13th, 2015.

At yesterday's sentence hearing, Detective Inspector Bill Hanrahan of the Special Detective Unit outlined the facts of the case. 

He told prosecuting counsel Tara Burns SC that O Coisdealbha was arrested on May 13, 2015 and detained at Irishtown Garda Station. 

He said that the arrest arose from a garda investigation which had been ongoing for a period of time prior to May 2015. 

In January 2015 the accused was observed at a licensed premises, The Coachmans Inn in Swords, meeting with "a particular individual" who has a conviction before the Special Criminal Court and who is suspected of having a significant role within the IRA.

Further meetings occurred between the two men in The Coachmans Inn in February, March, April and May of that year.

In relation to the meetings in April and May, audio surveillance was conducted by gardai.

The court also heard that accused was seen in the company of two brothers at a location in Violet Hill in Glasnevin on March 14, 2015.

A Sergeant on normal duty noticed three individuals acting suspiciously and stopped them in the vicinity at the back entrance to Glasnevin Cemetry and 400 metres from the Cross of Sacrifice monument.

Det Insp Hanrahan agreed with counsel that a further meeting took place at The Coachmans Inn between the accused and "a particular individual" on April 19, 2015.

The accused was seen leaving the premises and travelling into the city centre.

O Coisdealbha was then observed with the two brothers at ‘The Pint pub’ on Tara Street which lasted twenty minutes.

On May 9, 2015 O Coisdealbha was again seen in the company of the two brothers driving to a house at Harbour Court in Courtown in Wexford.

In the course of travel from Dublin to Wexford, the accused was observed buying packets of cling film.

Surveillance was placed on the house in Courtown throughout the day.

A further meeting occurred between the accused and "a particular individual" on May 10, 2015.

Then on May 13, 2015 a number of searches were conducted at Harbour Court in Courtown and in Profector Life Sciences in the National University of Ireland Maynooth, Co Kildare. 

When the house at Courtown in Wexford was searched, two areas were noted in it as areas which contained explosive devices.

“To the right of the entrance hallway was a bathroom, a water butt tied to a hand trolley. When that water butt was opened there was quite a substantial amount of explosive devices found contained in it – four improvised rockets, two larger than the remaining two. The larger rocket was found disassembled within the water butt,” said Ms Burns.

Semtex, five phones, a time power unit, a broken circuit board, a chord of cortex and two detonators, one commercial and one homemade, were also found within the water butt. 

Det Insp Hanrahan agreed with counsel that other smaller electrical components were also found in the water butt which were capable of being used within an explosive device.

A plastic crate containing semtex, a large bag of fertiliser (which was ground down to make a homemade explosive), a fire hydrant and a booster tube were found in the second area of the house. 

The court heard that when these items was examined by the Ballistic Unit of An Garda Siochana, it was found that the powders were explosive in nature and all the devices were found to be explosive substances.

Packets of cling film were also found in the course of the search at Harbour Court.

A pair of gardening gloves was also found within the plastic crate in the kitchen and a mixed DNA profile was found on the gloves.

The mixed DNA profile reflected a mixed DNA profile between Mr O Coisdealbha and one of the brothers.

The court heard that a search was also conducted at the accused's workplace at Maynooth University on May 13.  A time power unit and a broken circuit board were found in a specific locker which only O Coisdealbha had access to.

“Within the search at Harbour Court a time power unit had also been found within the water butt and a broken circuit. When they were analysed, it transpired they fitted together,” said counsel.

The court heard that the accused was arrested on May 13, 2015 and denied membership of the IRA during the course of his detention.

The court also heard that two improvised explosive devices were found in a car at Mitchelstown in Navan and O Coisdealbha’s DNA profile was found on one of the devices.

Ms Burns said the explosive device was a test-tube which contained a PIC chip, while the time power unit which was in Mr O Coisdealbha’s locker in Maynooth also had a PIC chip with it. Counsel said PIC chips had not been encountered previously within the jurisdiction. 

The court heard that O Coisdealbha and "a particular individual" can be heard discussing the Violet Hill incident in audio surveillance which was taken from The Coachman Inns in April and May.

There was also discussions about problems making solid fuel and black powder.

“Also in the course of discussions the particular individual directed Mr O Coisdealbha to meet with another named individual who was previously before The Special Criminal Court. They discussed plans to develop an artillery rocket,” said Ms Burns.

Ms Burns told the court that the two individuals met on May 10 and the proposed event is further discussed.

“It is clear from that conversation that preparations are well advanced and afoot and it is indicated that a bike and detonators have been got by the other individual for Mr O Coisdealbha. He is told by the other individual that it is his (the other man's) operation and they are ready to go,” said counsel.
 
Det Insp Hanranhan agreed with counsel that the indication gardai had was that the event was to happen around May 19 when Prince Charles was visiting the jurisdiction.

“There was a reference made that a timer was to be used with a 14 minute delay and the blame was to be given to a different organisation within the IRA” said Det Insp Hanrahan.

This was the part of the conversation which caused gardai to move on May 13.

The court heard that O Coisdealbha has no previous convictions, is a single man and lives at home with his parents. 

In mitigating factors Mr Sean Gillane SC, for O Coisdealbha, asked the court to consider his client’s very early guilty plea which is of particular value in this case as the trial would have taken a considerable amount of time.

“This is a public acknowledgement by him of his wrongdoing. He is now being punished for it and it also affects the prospect for his future,” said Mr Gillane.

The barrister said his client was educated to third level and at the time of of his arrest he was employed in the bio medical field.

“It’s clear from his background that he is someone capable of a deep and rich intellectual and cultural life,” he said.

Testimonials handed up to the court included a letter from a former President of Conradh na Gaeilge who spoke of the accused “in positive terms” and his “capabilities.”

A letter from O Coisdealbha was also handed into court where he set out his current position and expressed a hope that upon his eventual release from prison he could make a positive contribution to society.

The court heard that the maximum sentence for belonging to a dissident republican terrorist organisation is eight years.

Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy presiding, with Judge Sinead Ni Chulachain and Judge James Faughnan, remanded O Coisdealbha in custody until December 6, when he will be sentenced.