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Louth man found guilty of IRA membership jailed

Sentenced at the Special Criminal Court today
Sentenced at the Special Criminal Court today

A Louth man found guilty of IRA membership has been jailed by the Special Criminal Court for three years.

Michael Connolly (45) of Grange Drive in Dundalk had been observed driving in convoy with another man, who was then found with two improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Last month, the three-judge, non-jury court convicted Connolly, who had denied the charge, of membership of an unlawful organisation, styling itself Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the Irish Republican Army, otherwise the IRA on December 16th, 2014.  

The court had heard that Connolly and another man were seen together in the Ardee area that morning. They left the same house at the same time in two cars, and were then observed at a service station in Clonmellon, before both cars travelled in convoy to Mullingar.

The two men were later stopped by members of the Special Detective Unit on the N52 and two IEDs were found in a brown paper bag in the other man’s car.

There was also telephone contact between the two men that morning.

The judges had heard that the accused had failed to answer material questions, when interviewed under a provision that allows for inferences to be drawn from such a failure.

The court had also heard ‘belief evidence’ from Garda Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan that Connolly was a member of the IRA at the time.

During today's brief sentence hearing, Detective Garda Enda Gannon, of the Special Detective Unit, agreed with presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt that while Connolly did have one previous conviction, for handling stolen property, that was of "limited relevance" to this case. 

Hugh Hartnett SC, for Connolly, asked the court to take into account that his client has had a "relatively good record" and worked all his life.

Sentencing the man, Mr Justice Hunt that it was a "very well-planned operation" and that the IEDs were "sophisticated and well-made".

He said that a factor relating to the gravity of the offence was that there must have been "some purpose" to the activities Connolly was engaged in.

Mitigating factors, the court heard, were Connolly's good previous record, including nothing of relevance to this offence. The court also took into account that he has raised a family and worked for substantial periods of his adult life.

Connolly was sentenced to three years in prison.