Northern Ireland news

North Belfast Republican Dee Fennell on trial over cemetery speech

Dee Fennell at an earlier court hearing. Picture by Hugh Russell.

North Belfast dissident Damien 'Dee' Fennell has gone on trial in the city's Crown Court, charged with terrorist offences.

The 35-year old is being tried on three offences arising from a speech he gave at St Coleman's cemetery in Lurgan in April 2015.

The Easter Rising event was held on April 5, and included a speech given by 'dedicated Republican activist' Dee Fennell.

The speech was later uploaded onto the Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association's YouTube and Facebook pages.

Fennell, from Torrens Avenue, is accused of and denies three charges arising from comments he made in the eight-minute speech - namely encouraging terrorism, inviting support for the Irish Republican Army and encouraging support for the IRA.

In the speech, Fennell talks of an armed struggle within the political context of partition and occupation, telling the crowd that the armed struggle was legitimate before, during and after 1916, and remains a "legitimate act of resistance" in 2015.

He also quoted former Sinn Féin president  Marie Drumm in his speech, asking the crowd of around 70 people at the cemetery "It isn't enough to shout up the IRA, the important thing is to join the IRA."

Telling those gathered that "we will not accept British Rule", Fennell also says in his speech "ask yourself is it enough to support Republicanism or could you be a more active Republican?"

The video, which was played to the Diplock non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court, also mentioned two people who Fennell said were murdered by loyalist death squads assisted by the authorities.

The father of six also spoke of opposition to the Army and the rejection of British law in the six counties.

And in what is believed to be a reference to the murder of Lord Mounbatten, it is the Crown's case that Fennell rebuked Sinn Fein for welcoming the Queen to Ireland. Fennell told those at the cemetery: "The only welcome the IRA gave to a member of the British Royal family was delivered in a boat off the coast of Sligo."

It is the Crown's case that Fennell's words and message amounted to both encouraging terrorism and encouraging support for the IRA.

However, this view has been rejected by Fennell, who makes the case that he gave his personal opinion as opposed to encouraging anyone to engage in violence.

When he was arrested following a search of his house on April 20, 2015, he was taken to Antrim Serious Crime Unit where he refused to answer any questions. However, his solicitor handed police a pre-prepared statement on behalf of Fennell.

In the statement, he said: "while giving a detail a detailed analysis of the existing political context in Ireland drawing upon history, I gave a personal opinion as to why both armed struggle and the IRA exist.

"At no stage did I encourage anyone to join any organisation. At no stage did I encourage anyone to engage in violence against anyone."

In the statement, Fennell also said his arrest was "politically motivated."

Fennell's barrister launched two separate applications in a bid to get the charges against him withdrawn. However, these requests were refused by trial judge Geoffery Miller QC.

The defence barrister asked the Judge to consider that the speech given by Fennell was done within the context of a commemmorative ceremony, adding there was "nothing in the message that would encourage people to commit acts of terrorism."

The barrister also accepted that while Fennell's comments about the Royal Family were "distasteful", this could not be deemed as encouragement to carry out such as act.

After listening to submissions from both the Crown and defence, and after being informed that Fennell would not be giving evidence, Judge Miller reserved judgement and said he would give a ruling "as soon as is practical."

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