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Garda officers testifying against alleged dissidents to remain anonymous, judge rules

Garda surveillance officers are to remain anonymous when they testify against two alleged dissident republican paramilitaries at a hearing in Belfast, a judge ruled Thursday.

Applications to have them give evidence behind screens were granted amid claims by a senior detective that any identification could put future operations and lives at risk.

A preliminary inquiry is underway to test the strength of the case against Carl Reilly, 40, and 41-year-old Paul Crawford.

The two men face charges connected to covert recordings carried out by gardai at a hotel near Dundalk, Co Louth last year.

Reilly, chairman of the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) and with an address at Pollard Close in Belfast, is accused of directing terrorism and belonging to a proscribed organisation, Oglaigh na hEireann.

Crawford, from Carrickree Mews in Warrenpoint, Co Down, is charged with membership of the same outlawed grouping.

The alleged offences were committed over a period between January 2014 and October 2015.

They are said to involve conversations recorded during a meeting in the Carrickdale Hotel.

Defence lawyers claim the charges are based on police supposition and opinion, inconsistent Garda statements and poor quality CCTV images.

Up to 27 witnesses are due to be called during a four-day hearing to decide whether a prima facie case exists against the accused.

Applications for anonymity were pursued on behalf of two Garda surveillance officers.

A detective superintendent in charge of national surveillance within the force claimed identifying them in open court could have implications for their future deployment.

He also claimed it could "potentially identify a covert operation which, in my opinion, would create a risk to present or future operations and a risk to the life of that member, never mind the public in general".

Following submissions Judge Amanda Brady decided to grant the anonymity being sought.

The hearing continues.

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