Seven Irish republicans sentenced after MI5 bugging operation

Investigation aimed at Continuity IRA involved man named in connection with Omagh bombing

A flag pole bearing the letters CIRA (Continuity IRA) in a residential estate in Craigavon, Northern Ireland.
A flag pole bearing the letters CIRA (Continuity IRA) in a residential estate in Craigavon, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images
A flag pole bearing the letters CIRA (Continuity IRA) in a residential estate in Craigavon, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

Last modified on Fri 13 Nov 2020 15.02 EST

Seven leading Irish republican dissidents have been jailed following an MI5 bugging operation aimed at the Continuity IRA.

The seven CIRA hardline republicans include Patrick “Mooch” Blair, who was named in the House of Commons in 2002 as the man who built the bomb that caused the Omagh massacre – the largest single atrocity of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

All the defendants pleaded guilty to charges ranging from providing weapons and explosives training, attempting to procure explosive material, and targeting police officers and a senior prison governor in Northern Ireland for assassination.

Blair, 65, of Warrenpoint, County Down; Joseph Matthew Lynch, 79, of Weston, County Limerick; Liam Hannaway, 50, of Dunmurry in west Belfast; John Sheehy, 36, of Newry; and Colin Patrick Winters, 49, also of Newry, pleaded guilty to charges of belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation, as well as host of other terror-related charges.

Seamus Morgan, 64, of Newry; Kevin John Paul Heaney, 47, of west Belfast; and Terence Marks, 60, of Newry, 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.

The court was previously told that Winters had died in August.

All the offences took place between 11 August 2014 and 11 November 2014.

The seven defendants were arrested after MI5 secretly bugged a house in the border town of Newry in 2014 where meetings of the Continuity IRA leadership were held. The Continuity IRA is the oldest and most ideologically hardline armed republican group opposed to the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr Justice Coltan told Belfast crown court on Friday the contents of hours of discussions the men held, which had been covertly recorded, made for “grim and depressing reading”.

During the trial the court heard that the tapes revealed:

  • A plot to target a prison governor while he walked in the County Down countryside.

  • A plot to assassinate specific officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

  • A plan to steal sulphur from a factory in Dublin to make explosives.

  • A planned purchase of a £2,000 silencer for an automatic handgun which the court was told was in Blair’s possession.

In 2002 the Democratic Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson named Blair under parliamentary privilege as the man who constructed the Omagh bomb that killed 29 civilians in the market town 22 years ago. Blair later denied he was involved in the Omagh bombing in a statement to a tribunal in Dublin.

Blair and Hannaway were jailed for five years while Lynch received a six-and-a-half year sentence with three years and three months in custody, and the rest on licence.

Sheehy was given six years – half of which will be in prison, the other half on licence.

Marks was handed down two years in jail and two years on licence. Heaney was sentenced to three-and-a-half years with half of it being served on probation outside prison. Morgan was given 18 months in jail and a further 18 months on licence.