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Police and army bomb disposal experts at Shandon Park Golf Club on 1 June. David Young/PA

Man denies IRA membership charge relating to bomb placed under PSNI officer's car

The charge relates to the discovery of an explosive device under the officer’s car at Shandon Park Golf Club in east Belfast.

THE TRIAL OF a Dublin man charged in connection with the discovery of an improvised bomb under a PSNI officer’s car in Belfast has opened at the Special Criminal Court today.

Robert O’Leary (42) of Clancy Road, Finglas, Dublin 11, is before the non-jury court pleading not guilty to a single count of membership of an unlawful organisation styling itself as the Irish Republican Army, otherwise Óglaigh na hÉireann, at a location within the State on 20 August, 2019.

O’Leary spoke only to plead not guilty when the registrar read out the charge.

Prosecuting barrister Paul Greene SC said the background of the charge related to the discovery of an “under-vehicle improvised explosive device” located underneath the car of a serving PSNI officer at Shandon Park Golf Club in east Belfast on 1 June, 2019.

Greene said that the trial will hear that after the bomb was discovered on 1 June at the golf club, the New IRA claimed responsibility by issuing a statement through a journalist in Northern Ireland that 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.

Greene 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 1 June. One of the cars was a 2001 southern-registered Skoda Octavia.

Maps and photos were submitted in evidence by the prosecution.

Counsel said that the trial will hear that the Octavia ended up in the yard of O’Leary, a used-car dealer, in May of 2019, and that he is alleged to have altered the log book with an “untruthful address”.

Outlining the case, Greene said that O’Leary will say that he sold the car to a “stocky man, in his 60s” for €700.

On 20 August, 2019, gardaí arrested O’Leary under the Offences against the State Act.

Greene read from the statement of the PSNI officer, who cannot be identified for safety reasons and is to be known as Officer One.

Officer One said in his statement that he would usually check underneath his car but that because of builders at a neighbouring property he could not do it discreetly in the two mornings before the discovery.

In his statement, Officer One detailed his movement in the Cherokee for 30 May, 31 May and 1 June around east Belfast but said he did not note anything unusual.

On Saturday, 1 June, he drove to the golf course at 7.40am, played golf and had a coffee. When returning to his car he saw the car next to his reverse, clearing his view of his own vehicle and allowing him to see the device underneath his car.

“With a clear view of the car, I saw what looked like a brown shoe-box under my jeep, in the shadow of the car and it appeared to be attached. It looked like a child’s woodwork project. It looked crude, basic and I wondered if it was a wind-up,” Greene read from Officer One’s statement.

Approaching, Officer One realised it was a device, took photos but did not want to ring the PSNI for fear of setting it off by using his mobile. The PSNI were instead contacted via a landline at the pro-shop.

A PSNI ordnance officer, who also cannot be identified, arrived at the scene and discovered 65 grams of TNT attached to an aluminium detonator inside a wooden box under the jeep.

The device was made safe after a partial explosion occurred, said Greene, reading from Officer Two’s statement.

Presiding judge Mr Justice Tony Hunt had previously granted bail to O’Leary in the form of a €100 in his own bond and an independent surety of €1,000 and the defendant was remanded on continuing bail to appear tomorrow.

The trial is expected to last one week.

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Paul Neilan and Isabel Hayes.