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Man who supplied car in IRA operation to put bomb under PSNI officer's jeep sentenced to three years

Robert O’Leary previously said “never in a million years” would he be involved with the IRA.
Oct 16th 2020, 2:31 PM 16,109 8

AN “ARTHUR DALY” type used-car dealer who supplied a vehicle for a dissident operation to place a bomb under a PSNI officer’s jeep in Belfast has been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment at the non-jury Special Criminal Court.

Robert O’Leary, who denied the charge and said “never in a million years” would he be involved with the IRA, wrote a letter to the court yesterday to promise that upon release, he would not associate with individuals engaging in militant or violent Republicanism.

He also undertook not to come to the attention of gardaí.

O’Leary (42) of Clancy Road, Finglas, Dublin 11, pleaded not guilty to a single count of membership of an unlawful organisation, contrary to Section 21 of the Offences against the State Act 1939, as amended by section 48 of the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005.

He was found guilty by the non-jury court of being a member of a group styling itself as the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Óglaigh na hÉireann, at a location within the State on 20 August, 2019.

Mark Lynam BL, defending, said the contents of the letter sent yesterday were “completely unambiguous”, were a “major factor for his [O'Leary's] situation” and were accepted by senior gardaí in the case, which was acknowledged by the prosecution.

Justice Hunt, presiding, said he would consider the undertaking in 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.

Delivering judgment last month, the judge 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” – the lead character from the 1980s UK TV series ‘Minder’ – 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.

Improvised device

In his opening address to the three-judge court last July, prosecution counsel Paul Greene SC 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 1 June, 2019.

After the bomb was discovered, the New IRA claimed responsibility by issuing a statement through a journalist.

It read: “The IRA claims responsibility for the recent under-car booby-trap. We are confident that the device would have exploded if not for the terrain it travelled over. We were unlucky this time but we only need to be lucky once.”

Counsel said that 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 1 June.

One of the two cars was a 2001 southern-registered Skoda Octavia.

At today’s sentencing, the judge said that it was “only good fortune” that the PSNI officer was not killed or seriously injured.

He also 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.

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“Evidence in this case consisted of the acquisition of a car by Mr O’Leary approximately one week before this car played a pivotal role in planting, by the IRA in Belfast, an explosive device designed to kill or seriously injure a PSNI officer.

“We were satisfied that Mr O’Leary sourced and purchased this car and disposed of it using dubious personal details, thereby breaking the obvious link between this car and the IRA operation,” said the judge.

Incriminating paraphernalia

The judge also said that there was no specific evidence during the trail that O’Leary knew the exact purpose of the car, or that he played any active part other that its acquisition.

The judge added that O’Leary had no incriminating paraphernalia on him, did not move with higher members of the IRA and that there was no evidence of firearms in the case.

However, he said that it was “solely good fortune that no actual harm occurred” and said that the car was associated with a “very grave crime indeed”.

The judge said that the sentence would have an onerous effect on O’Leary’s partner, who would now have to look after two children and nine employees.

The judge also took into account that O’Leary had no previous relevant convictions, was of previous good character and that there were testimonial letters from family, employment, sporting and charitable circles.

The juge 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.

The final sentence of three years’ imprisonment was then backdated to 29 September, 2020, when O’Leary was found guilty.

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Paul Neilan

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