Source: PA Archive/PA Images
A DISSIDENT REPUBLICAN leader convicted of directing the activities of a terrorist organization which plotted an explosion during the State visit of Britain’s Prince Charles two years ago has been jailed for 11-and-a-half years.
Seamus McGrane (63), of Little Road, Dromiskin, County Louth, was convicted in October by the non-jury Special Criminal Court of directing the activities of an unlawful organisation, styling itself the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the IRA, between the dates of 19 April and 13 May 2015.
McGrane, leader of a splinter dissident group formed in 2008 and known as Oglaigh na hEireann, is only the second person to be convicted of directing terrorism in the State. His ally Michael McKevitt was jailed for 20 years in 2003 for directing terrorism.
On 31 October last, the court found that McGrane discussed an operation involving explosives in the run-up to the State visit of Prince Charles two years ago.
He was also found guilty by the three-judge court of membership of the IRA between 18 January 2010 and 13 May 2015. He had denied both charges.
He was also sentenced this morning to six-and-a-half years in prison for IRA membership.
‘Most serious offence’
Sentencing McGrane, presiding judge Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy said that it was “a most serious offence”.
The judge also noted that the court had received a letter from Eamon O’Cuiv TD, in which the Fianna Fail member expressed the opinion that McGrane was “fully supportive” of O’Cuiv’s efforts to facilitate the peace process.
The judge said, however, that the TD’s opinions were “unconvincing” in the light of McGrane’s history.
The defendant has two previous convictions. The first was for IRA membership and dates back to 1976 for which he spent one year in custody. The second conviction, from 2001, related to training others in the use of firearms for which he was jailed for four years by the Special Criminal Court.
In October 1999 McGrane had been arrested in County Meath in a training camp discovered in an underground bunker, where a firing-range had been constructed.
During the most recent trial, in October, the court heard evidence from two audio recordings, from April and May 2015, of McGrane and Donal O’Coisdealbha in conversation in the snug of The Coachman’s Inn on the Airport Road in Dublin – a pub that had been bugged by garda detectives.
McGrane had issued instructions to O’Coisdealbha to contact a person he referred to as the “motorbike man” to collect ingredients required to manufacture explosives.
He had also made statements about providing bomb-making material for others.
McGrane mentioned experimenting with the development of explosives and discussed strategy and his involvement in training people in the IRA and “swearing in” people to the organisation.
The recording from May also referred to a “military operation” of significance and “the main attack” on 19 May, the date Prince Charles was due to carry out a State visit.
McGrane instructed O’Coisdealbha that the operation should not be an “embarrassment” and that it was not to occur in Sligo or Galway, where Prince Charles was due to visit.
The target of the attack, the trial was told, was to be the Cross of Sacrifice, a monument in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin commemorating British and Irish soldiers who fought in World War 1.
McGrane had also described in the recordings an attack on Palace Barracks – the MI5 Headquarters in Northern Ireland – on 12 April 2010 and a bomb on a railway line.
The defendant was arrested six days before the planned attack.
Searches related to the plot were then conducted at McGrane’s home in Dromiskin and an adjoining property at the back of his house, as well as a house at Harbour Court in Courttown, County Wexford and a locker at Maynooth University.
A “significant amount” of explosive material was found in these locations, Ms Justice Kennedy said.
There were detonators, glucose, ammunition and mortars. In Harbour Court detectives found a water butt containing rockets and semtex.
At Maynooth University, a time and power unit (TPU) and a broken circuit board were found in a specific locker which only O’Coisdealbha, the man McGrane had been instructing, had access to.
In November last year, O’Coisdealbha (25), of Abbeyfield, Killester in Dublin 5 pleaded guilty to membership of the IRA on 13 May 2015.
He was jailed for five and a half years.
At McGrane’s sentence hearing last month, Michael O’Higgins SC had submitted that there were distinctions between his client’s case and Michael McKevitt’s.
He had said that McGrane and McKevitt were involved in a different organisations.
Ms Justice Kennedy said that in considering the sentence for directing the activities of a terrorist organisation the aggravating factors included McGrane’s previous convictions and that the devices he discussed were then found during searches.
The range of possible sentences for the offence are from a suspended sentence to life in prison, the court heard.
Mitigating factors, the judge said, were the manner in which the defendant approached the trial, which reduced its length from months to days.
Letter from O’Cuiv
Ms Justice Kennedy said the court had also received a letter from Eamon O’Cuiv TD, outlining the Fianna Fail member’s work in the peace process and his visits to republican prisoners in Portlaoise prison.
The judge said that O’Cuiv referred in the letter to a discussion he had at the prison with McGrane.
She said that the TD expressed the opinion that McGrane was “fully supportive” of O’Cuiv’s efforts to facilitate the peace process.
Ms Justice Kennedy said, however, that there was no reference in the letter to the offence of training others in the use of firearms for which McGrane was in prison at the time.
She also said that “unusually” the letter was not on headed paper, was not dated and that the signature was indecipherable.
The judge concluded that O’Cuiv’s opinion was “unconvincing” in the light of McGrane’s history and was of “no assistance” to the court.
The sentences for directing a terrorist organisation and for IRA membership are to run concurrently.
Speaking after the sentencing outside the Criminal Courts of Justice, Detective Chief Superintendent Tom Maguire, of the Special Detective Unit (SDU), said that it was a “very significant conviction” for An Garda Siochana.
He said that while the sentence was not something he wanted to comment on, he did want to acknowledge the work that had gone into the operation from the investigative team in the SDU and the Crime and Security Unit.
He said that these were “people who in the normal course of events never get mentioned due to the nature of the work that they do”.