Northern Ireland

Four men appear in court over IRA membership charges

Belfast Crown Court

Four men have gone on trial accused of a number of terrorism-related charges, including IRA membership.

The charges also include possession of firearms and conspiracy to inflict grievous bodily harm.

The men refused to stand before the judge in the Diplock-style non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court.

Judge Patricia Smyth was told the men could be identified from covert voice recordings made by the security services.

A senior prosecution barrister said that when the recordings were taken together with other circumstantial evidence, the court could infer "that they are members of the IRA, carrying out activities on behalf of the IRA".

The defendants are 52-year-old Mark Gerard Heaney, of Lagmore Gardens, Daniel Joseph Anthony McClean, of Lagmore Gardens, Kevin O'Neill, 62, of Coolnasilla Park South and Robert Warnock O'Neill, 41, of Bingnian Drive.

'Hair-trigger away'

All are accused of IRA membership between December 2013 and June 2014, and conspiracy to inflict GBH on a suspected drug dealer.

Mr Heaney and Robert O'Neill also face separate charges of possessing a firearm with intent and under suspicious circumstances.

Mr McClean is also charged with collecting information on drug dealers and falsely imprisoning a suspected dealer.

Kevin O'Neill alone is charged with possessing articles useful to terrorists including an imitation firearm, camouflage jackets and black gloves, allegedly uncovered during a search of his home following his arrest in June 2014.

The court heard the recordings were made between December 2013 and May 2014.

In one recording, it was claimed, a suspected drug dealer was threatened that he would have his "legs being taken off with a shotgun" if he did not provide information on other alleged dealers.

A prosecution lawyer said that during his 41-minute ordeal, the man was told by one interrogator he would not think twice about putting him in a "body bag, or an open or closed coffin" and again threatened that he was a "hair-trigger away of getting your legs blown off".

'Somebody's watching'

The court also heard that on another occasion suspects were heard discussing the movement of police vehicles in the area, and the prospect that they were being spied on by someone and that "somebody's watching and someone's telling them".

The court heard that although interviewed on 21 occasions, Mr Heaney remained silent.

During Kevin O'Neill's 17 interviews he made no response, except to say he was not a member of any illegal organisation, while Robert O'Neill told officers he had "nothing to say" in his 18 interviews.

Mr McClean made no comment at all during 15 interviews.

The trial continues on Wednesday when the court will hear a number of defence legal submissions on the admissibility of the alleged covert recordings as evidence,

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