Northern Ireland news

Dublin used car dealer who supplied a car for a dissident republican operation in Belfast jailed for three years

Police and army bomb disposal experts at the scene after a suspicious object was found attached underneath a car that had been driven into Shandon Park Golf Club in east Belfast

A used car dealer who supplied a vehicle for a dissident republican operation to place a bomb under a PSNI officer's vehicle in Belfast has been jailed for three years.

Robert O'Leary (42) of Clancy Road, Finglas, Dublin had pleaded not guilty to a single count of IRA membership on August 20 2019.

Denying the charge he said "never in a million years" would he be involved with the IRA.

O'Leary was found guilty by the non-jury Special Criminal Court.

The day before his sentencing he wrote a letter to the court giving an undertaking "that upon release, [he would] not associate with persons or a person engaging in militant or violent Republicanism". He also undertook not to come to the attention of gardaí.

A defence laywer said the contents of the letter were "completely unambiguous".

Mr Justice Hunt, presiding, said he would consider the letter after reading out the sentence that was originally constructed before the court received it and then give it due consideration for adjusting the sentence.

Police at Shandon Park Golf Club. Picture by Pacemaker

Delivering judgment last month, Mr Justice Hunt said that a Skoda Octavia car had been used to survey the area around the PSNI officer's home in Belfast and stopped nearby for three minutes while the device was planted under his car.

The judge said the accused man had invented a purchaser for the Skoda car - a mysterious man - to break the link between him and the Octavia.

The defendant had bought, moved on and repaired the car in a "purposeful way" and to suggest that this was some kind of "spontaneous long-shot" was not borne out by the CCTV in the case, he added.

O'Leary, who described himself as a "bit of an Arthur Daly" told detectives that they were "barking up the wrong tree" and "never in a million years" would he source a car for use in an IRA operation.

In his opening address to the three-judge court last July, a prosecution lawyer said the charge related to the discovery of an "under-vehicle improvised explosive device" located beneath the car of a serving PSNI officer at Shandon Park Golf Club in east Belfast on June 1, 2019.

After the bomb was discovered, the New IRA claimed responsibility.

The lawyer said the PSNI had investigated the movements of the officer's car, a Cherokee jeep, around Belfast on the days previous to the discovery and contacted gardaí about the burning out of two cars nearby on June 1. One of the two cars was a 2001 southern-registered Skoda Octavia.

At today's sentencing, Mr Justice Hunt said that it was "only good fortune" that the PSNI officer was not killed or seriously injured.

Mr Justice Hunt said that he maximum sentence for membership of a proscribed organisation was eight years but that he was satisfied that the offence fell within the mid-range of the scale and identified a headline sentence of four-and-a-half years before mitigation.

"Membership can range from being passive and inactive to highly energetic and committed," said the judge.

Mr Justice Hunt read out the original sentence to be three years and six months' imprisonment but then suspended the final six months for two years after taking into account O'Leary's letter to the court.

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