A man was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment today for dissident republican gun smuggling in Northern Ireland after an MI5 sting operation.
Paul Anthony John McCaugherty, 44, of Beech Court, Lurgan, Co Armagh, plotted to import weapons and explosives for the Real IRA from a dealer who was a security services agent.
Co-accused Dermot Declan Gregory, 42, of Concession Road, Crossmaglen, was sentenced to four years behind bars for making a property in Portugal available for the purposes of terrorism.
Mr Justice Anthony Hart told Belfast Crown Court: "Any attempt to purchase and import such a large amount of weapons and explosives for terrorist purposes must be regarded as exceptionally serious because of the potential for murder and destruction on a large scale."
Last week Home Secretary Theresa May warned of heightened threats from dissident republicans.
As he was led away, McCaugherty raised one arm to friends and family in the heavily-guarded courtroom. He showed no emotion as he was sentenced.
The court heard he set out to purchase a substantial quantity of weapons and explosives in Europe on behalf of the Real IRA.
He was introduced to a person whom he knew as Ali who he believed was a genuine arms dealer but in reality was an MI5 agent.
McCaugherty agreed to purchase 100kg of plastic explosives, 28 AK assault rifles, 20 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 10 sniper rifles and two pistols.
During his negotiations with Ali he handed over £45,970 in cash as part-payment for the proposed delivery.
The security services operation lasted from August 2004 to June 2006.
Mr Justice Hart said he was satisfied that at all times McCaugherty was acting as a senior and trusted member of the Real IRA. He added there was never any prospect of McCaugherty obtaining the weapons but the attempt was still exceptionally serious.
McCaugherty's counsel suggested he had been enticed to carry out the actions but Mr Justice Hart rejected this.
The judge said: "McCaugherty's admissions to Ali reveal that he has been an active and energetic terrorist for a considerable period of time and one who was prepared to go to great lengths to obtain weapons, as can be seen from the fact that he made numerous trips to meet Ali to destinations as far apart as Amsterdam, Bruges and Istanbul."
He imposed concurrent sentences for counts involving the gun smuggling plot and membership of a proscribed organisation. He also handed out a sentence of five years imprisonment for McCaugherty's role in arranging to obtain the documents of a restaurant in Portugal so it would be available for the purposes of terrorism.
McCaugherty was sentenced for seven counts of conspiracy to possess firearms, explosives and ammunition with the intent to endanger life or cause serious damage to property, belonging to a proscribed organisation, using money for the purposes of terrorism and entering into an arrangement to make property available for the purposes of terrorism.
Gregory was convicted of one count of entering into an arrangement to make the Portuguese property available for the purposes of terrorism.
Mr Justice Hart said his efforts to provide property for the Real IRA were significant.
It was claimed during the trial that the premises was purchased by a third party with money provided by Gregory.
The third party ran the restaurant until 2006 when the Real IRA sought to gain control of it by obtaining the deeds with the assistance of Gregory with the intention of selling the property to raise funds.
The judge said: "Money is the life blood of any terrorist organisation and anyone who makes property available to a terrorist organisation helps that organisation further its objectives of murder and destruction and the punishment must reflect this."
The judge noted that references had been handed in to court on Gregory's behalf, calling him a hard-working man devoted to his child. He also referred to his protracted custody battle which may have led him to neglect his own affairs and "warped" his judgment.