Belfast Telegraph

'Continuity IRA disputes' revealed

Secret MI5 recordings of Continuity IRA meetings reveal details of disputes between rival factions of the dissident republican terror group, a court has heard.

Strains between the Belfast and Newry wings of the violent renegade organisation are captured in the conversations taped by the Security Services, a prosecution lawyer told a district judge.

The barrister was opposing a bail application by one of seven men charged at the weekend on evidence drawn from 70 hours of bugged discussions from a house in Newry, Co Down.

Seamus Morgan, 58, from Barcroft Park, Newry, who is charged with membership of a proscribed organisation, this morning failed in his bid to be bailed from custody.

The prosecution lawyer said the recordings showed he was "clearly a key member" of the Continuity IRA in Newry but his defence lawyer insisted his client "strenuously denied" the charge.

Morgan was one of 12 men arrested during a police raid last week of the house in Ardcarn Park in Newry that MI5 had been monitoring since August.

Five were released pending reports being sent to prosecutors while Morgan and six others appeared in court on Monday charged with a range of terror offences - a remand hearing during which it was claimed the tapes had uncovered a dissident plot to kill judges and police officers.

The prosecution barrister today told the court 35 detectives currently working on the case were still hunting a number of other suspects who had also allegedly attended the dissident meetings in Ardcarn Park but had not been present when the house was raided.

Former paramilitary prisoner Morgan is facing a solitary count of membership. The other six also face that charge but are additionally accused of conspiracy to possess explosives with intent to endanger life, conspiracy to possess firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life and preparation for acts of terrorism.

Five of them are also charged with directing terrorism.

At Morgan's bail hearing in Newry Magistrates Court, the prosecutor told district judge Eamon King that a total of eight meetings had been recorded by MI5 prior to the police raid on November 10.

He said Morgan, who appeared in court via video-link from Maghaberry high security prison near Lisburn, had been present at two of those meetings and had been referred to in the course of five of the other six discussions.

The lawyer said at all eight meetings topics discussed included membership of a proscribed organisation; weapons training; funding terrorist activity; plans to commit acts of terrorism; plans to procure firearms and manufacture weapons; and the structures of the Continuity IRA and recruitment strategies.

He claimed the first meeting Morgan was recorded at took place on October 7. The lawyer said the conversation involved Morgan and co-accused Colin Winters, 43, who lived in and owned the property at Ardcarn Park.

"They discussed their frustration about the ability to do jobs without weapons, discussed punishment attacks, other meetings and individual targets for shooting attacks," he said.

"They also discussed their frustration at people using their name to deal with youths in the area."

The lawyer said the conversation also contained expressed frustration about another of their co-accused - Liam Hannaway, an alleged member of the Belfast wing of the CIRA.

He said the expletive-laden exchanges focused on the fact Hannaway, 44, from White Rise, Dunmurry, was apparently wanting to know what the Newry grouping was doing.

The lawyer said the discussion referred to "how the Belfast CIRA were interfering in their operations".

The discussion included a sinister threat to "railroad the f****** c***" and an insistence that the Newry wing was "not going to bounce up to Belfast", said the barrister.

He said the men also expressed annoyance that the Continuity IRA's name was apparently being used to "threaten children and we know nothing about it".

The barrister said Morgan suggested using the newspapers to make clear that such a threat was not being made by the CIRA in Newry.

The prosecutor claimed Morgan said the statement to the press could make clear "if we catch anyone using our name for anything they are going to be severely f****** punished" and that if the CIRA did something people would know it was them instead of "some Mickey Mouse" organisation.

The recorded conversation between the men also touched on the Newry wing's desire to over-rule the Belfast group to shoot a drug dealer, the lawyer claimed.

The barrister said while the men outlined reasons why the dealer could not be shot, he added: "Both were keen to shoot him."

The lawyer then revealed details of the second meeting Morgan allegedly attended on October 13.

He claimed also was present were Winters; co-accused Patrick Joseph Blair, 59, from Villas One, Dundalk; and a suspect, not named in court, who police were still hunting.

The prosecutor said conversations focused on procurement of weapons and how to build local support.

He said reference was made to supplying another suspect with "weapons and bomb-making" material.

Morgan's defence lawyer said there was "no evidence" that his client was party to this conversation.

The prosecutor said it was his instructions that Morgan was present.

The state opposed bail on the grounds that, if released from Maghaberry, the accused could commit further offences; potentially abscond the jurisdiction; and interfere with witnesses or tip off other suspects.

He said the evidence he had outlined to the court provided "a significant flavour of what was being discussed in those meetings".

"He (Morgan) wholeheartedly involved himself in discussions about Continuity IRA policy," he said.

The lawyer added: "He's clearly a key member of the Continuity IRA in Newry."

Morgan's defence lawyer stressed that the bail hearing was "not an appropriate forum to conduct a trial" but said he wanted to make some points clear to the court.

After reiterating his view that his client did not participate in the second meeting referred to, he claimed that in the other encounter, when Morgan was alleged to have suggested a statement was given to the press, the accused referred to the CIRA as a third party.

He said the phrase "get 'them' to put out a statement" was recorded - something he said indicated that Morgan was not a member of the organisation he was talking about

The lawyer said his presence at that meeting was entirely innocent as he had gone to meet a friend.

He insisted his client's case was "distinguishable" from the other six defendants as they were facing much more serious charges.

"It's a significantly different position he is in," he said.

Countering the prosecution grounds for opposing bail, the lawyer said it would be "foolhardy" to consider that his client would contemplate committing offences on bail given his knowledge that the Security Services were monitoring him.

"He knows MI5 have got him on their radar," he said.

The lawyer said father-of-four Morgan was also rooted in Newry, a city he had lived in all his life, so there was no likelihood he would abscond.

He said the prospect of him fleeing was also impacted by health issues, noting that he suffered a stroke two years ago and also had a nervous disorder.

In regard to the prospect of him tipping off other suspects, the lawyer said any such suspects would already be well aware they were wanted given the publicity surrounding the raid of the house.

"There are no grounds on which your worship could properly refuse bail," he told the judge, revealing that Morgan's sister was willing to put up the deeds of her house as a surety.

He added: "He (Morgan) does not accept he is a member of this organisation as charged."

But judge King said he was satisfied that all three concerns flagged up by the prosecution in opposing bail had merit.

Refusing bail, he noted that the accused was the same age as him and, as such, both men had come through 58 years of "trouble and strife" on the island of Ireland.

The judge said it was a "tragedy" for the country that some people still thought the best way of achieving a political goal was through violence.

He said it was clear the CIRA had been "infiltrated to a very great degree" by MI5 through the use of "line taps or bugs".

Morgan will appear again via video-link, this time with his six other accused, on December 10.

The five men facing a count of directing terrorism along with the four other charges are Joseph Matthew Lynch, 73, from Beechgrove Avenue, Limerick; Sean O'Neill, 75, from Quinn's Cottages, Limerick; Blair, Hannaway and Winters.

The man facing four charges is John Sheehy, 30, from Clounmacon, Listowel, Co Kerry.

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