West Belfast men charged with IRA membership
FOUR west Belfast men allegedly secretly recorded by the "security services" discussing IRA tactics have gone on trial in Belfast accused of a number of terrorist related offences including IRA membership.
Between them they face a total of nine charges, and in addition to the membership charges, they include possession of firearms, conspiracy to attack suspected drug dealers, collecting information on dealers and possessing materials useful to terrorists.
The four refused to stand at the start of their Diplock-style non-jury trial before Crown Court Judge Patricia Smyth, who was told that the men could allegedly be identified from the covert voice recordings.
A senior prosecution barrister further claimed that when the recordings were taken together with other circumstantial evidence, the court could infer "that they are members of the IRA, carrying out activities on behalf of the IRA".
On trial are Mark Gerard Heaney (52) of Lagmore Gardens, Daniel Joseph Anthony McClean (52), also of Lagmore Gardens, 62-year-old Kevin O'Neill from Coolnasilla Park South and 41-year-old Robert Warnock O'Neill of Bingnian Drive.
All are accused of IRA membership between December 2013 and June 2014, and conspiracy to inflict GBH on a suspected drug dealer. Heaney and Robert O'Neill also face separate charges of possessing a firearm with intent and under suspicious circumstances, and with McClean also with collecting information on drug dealers and falsely imprisoning a suspected dealer.
Kevin O'Neill alone is additionally charged with possessing articles useful to terrorists including an imitation firearm, camouflage jackets and black gloves, allegedly uncovered during a search of his home following his arrest in June 2014.
The court heard that the covert recordings made in a house in the Dunmurry area on December 16, 2013, February 6, April 9 and May 5 the following year, captured men talking about such matters as kneecappings, punishment beatings and forcing people, including "a wee lad" to flee the country or face the consequences.
In one recording, it was claimed, a suspected drug dealer was threatened with his "legs being taken off with a shotgun" if he did not co-operate in providing information on other alleged dealers.
The prosecution lawyer said that during his 41-minute ordeal, the man was was told by one interrogator he wouldn't think twice about putting him in a "body bag, or an open or closed coffin" and again threatened he was a "hair-trigger away of getting your legs blown off".
On another occasions suspects were heard discussing the movement of police cars and a Jeep in the area, and the prospect that they were being spied on by someone in the immediate area and that "somebody's watching and someone's telling them", all the time they being unaware they were being secretly taped.
Judge Smyth was told that analysis of the recordings by an expert claims to have made positive identification and the recordings provided very strong support in the case of Kevin O'Neill and strong support in the cases of Heaney and Robert O'Neill and moderate to strong support in identifying McClean.
Other supporting evidence allegedly included "records of the movements of various individuals around the area, including leaving and arriving" at the house in which the recording equipment was installed, and that the "prosecution rely upon all the evidence arising from all of the recordings and other evidence in proof of the charges".
The court also heard that although interviewed on 21 occasions Heaney remained silent. During Kevin O'Neill's 17 interviews he made no response save to say he was not a member of any illegal organisation, while Robert O'Neill in his 18 interviews told officers he had "nothing to say", and that McClean during his 15 interviews made no comment at all.
The trial continues today when the court will hear a number of defence legal submissions on the admissibility as evidence of the alleged covert recordings of the men.