Northern Ireland news

Top Troubles IRA figure pleads guilty in MI5 bugging case

Joseph Patrick ‘Mooch’ Blair outside Belfast Crown Court yesterday

ONE of the most senior IRA men of the Troubles has pleaded guilty to membership of an illegal organisation, training and possession of explosives and firearms after being bugged by MI5.

Patrick ‘Mooch’ Blair (64) has been linked to atrocities such as the 1998 Omagh bombing which killed 29 people including a woman pregnant with twins.

Blair sided with dissidents after the Provisional IRA ceasefires and became an active member of the Real IRA.

The hard-liner was named in the House of Commons as having “helped to construct the Omagh bomb” for the Real IRA.

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Convicted alongside him was Belfast dissident republican Liam Hannaway who has convictions for explosives offences. The pair were among seven men to plead guilty at Belfast Crown Court yesterday to around 40 terrorist charges arising from a covert MI5 operation against the Continuity IRA.

Police described it as “one of the most significant terrorism cases in recent times”.

The undercover bugging operation focused on a house in Co Down in 2014. The men were due to go on trial on February 3 but admitted their guilt yesterday.

All were released on continuing bail. They will be sentenced in March along with an eighth man who pleaded guilty earlier this month.

No details were given in court about the nature of the charges but a previous hearing in 2014 was told that MI5 had bugged the Newry property of one of the defendants where they were recorded discussing potential targets for attack, including specific police officers.

Potential attacks against members of the judiciary were discussed, as were weapons training, funding for terrorist activity and plans to get weapons, a prosecution lawyer added.

After yesterday’s hearing the head of the PSNI’s Serious Crime Branch, Detective Chief Superintendent Raymond Murray, said: “This is one of the most significant terrorism cases in recent times given the seriousness of the offences and the number of people involved.

“Today’s result demonstrates our commitment to disrupting terrorism and protecting the community.”

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