Northern Ireland news

Seven men plead guilty to Continuity IRA charges following MI5 bugging

IRA veteran Patrick 'Mooch' Blair is confronted by the now deceased Willie Frazer as he left the Smithwick Tribunal in 2011

SEVEN men have pleaded guilty to charges arising out of a covert MI5 bugging operation against the Continuity IRA in Newry more than five years ago.

The men had been due to go on trial next Monday over the undercover eavesdropping operation on a bungalow at Ardcarn Park in the city in 2014 where CIRA meetings had been held.

At Belfast Crown Court today, the seven defendants were re-arraigned at the request of their defence lawyers on a catalogue of terrorist offences before Mr Justice Colton.

Patrick Joseph 'Mooch' Blair (64), of Lissara Heights, Warrenpoint, Co Down, Liam Hannaway (50) of White Rise, Dunmurry in west Belfast, John Sheehy (35), of Erskine Street, Newry and Colin Patrick Winters (48), of Ardcarn Park, Newry, all pleaded guilty to charges of belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation, providing weapons and explosives training, conspiring to possess explosives, firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

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They further admitted conspiracy to possess explosives, firearms and ammunition with intent, along with preparing acts of terrorism.

Blair, Hannaway and Winters also admitted collecting information likely to be of use to terrorists.

Terence Marks at Belfast Crown Court today 

Sheehy further pleaded guilty to attending a meeting at Ardcarn Park for the purposes of terrorist training.

Winters also admitted to allowing his Ardcarn Park home to be used for the purposes of a terrorist meeting.

Seamus Morgan at Belfast Crown Court today 

Seamus Morgan (64), of Barcroft Park, Newry, Kevin John Paul Heaney (46), of Blackstaff Mews, Springfield Road in West Belfast and Terence Marks (49), of Parkhead Crescent, Newry, all pleaded guilty to belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation.

Marks also admitted to a further charge of receiving training in the making or use of explosives for terrorism.

Kevin John Paul Heaney at Belfast Crown Court today 

All of the offences took place on dates between August 11, 2014 and November 11, 2014.

None of the defendants asked for pre-sentence reports to be compiled by the Probation Service ahead of sentencing.

Joseph Patrick Blair, (aka Mooch) at Belfast Crown Court today

However, counsel for Hannaway said he would be submitting a number of medical reports to the court relating to his mental and physical health problems.

Mr Justice Colton said he would release all seven defendants on continuing bail.

He set the date for a plea and sentencing hearing for Wednesday, March 25.

No details were given in court about the nature of the charges the seven defendants pleaded guilty to.

John Sheehy at Belfast Crown Court today

But a previous court hearing in 2014 heard that police believed Winters' home at Ardcarn Park was being used to host meetings of the Continuity IRA.

MI5 had gained access to the property and planted secret listening device in a number of rooms in the property to record conversations at the meetings.

The court heard that suspects in the property had been recorded discussing potential targets for attack, including specific police officers.

Colin Patrick Winters at Belfast Crown Court today

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

A PSNI detective involved in the investigation told the court that the suspects were "leading key figures of a proscribed organisation".

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Liam Hannaway at Belfast Crown Court today

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