Belfast Telegraph

Judgment reserved in Fennell graveyard speech terror trial

By Ashleigh McDonald

Judgment has been reserved in a terrorism trial involving north Belfast dissident republican Damien 'Dee' Fennell

In a one-day case at Belfast Crown Court yesterday, the 35-year-old was charged with three offences arising from a speech he gave at an Easter Rising event at St Colman's cemetery in Lurgan in April 2015.

The speech was later uploaded to the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association's YouTube and Facebook pages.

Fennell, from Torrens Avenue, denies three charges arising from comments made in the eight-minute speech - namely encouraging terrorism, inviting support for the IRA and encouraging support for the IRA.

In the speech, Fennell talked of an armed struggle within the political context of partition and occupation.

He told the crowd that the armed struggle was legitimate before, during and after 1916 and remained a "legitimate act of resistance" in 2015.

He also quoted former Sinn Fein vice president Marie Drumm, telling the crowd of around 70 people at the cemetery: "It isn't enough to shout up the IRA, the important thing is to join the IRA."

Fennell said in the speech "We will not accept British Rule" and added: "Ask yourself, is it enough to support republicanism or could you be a more active republican?"

In the video, which was played to the Diplock non-jury trial at Belfast Crown Court, the father-of-six also spoke of his opposition to the Army and of his rejection of British law in Northern Ireland.

It is the Crown's case that Fennell rebuked Sinn Fein for welcoming the Queen to Ireland by saying: "The only welcome the IRA gave to a member of the Royal Family was delivered in a boat off the coast of Sligo (a reference to the murder of Lord Mountbatten)."

It is alleged by the Crown that Fennell's words amounted to both encouraging terrorism and encouraging support for the IRA.

However, the defendant rejects this interpretation and claims that he was merely expressing his personal opinion, as opposed to encouraging anyone to engage in violence.

When he was arrested following a search of his house in April 2015, he was taken to Antrim serious crime unit, where he refused to answer any questions.

His solicitor instead handed police a prepared statement on behalf of his client.

The statement said: "While giving a detailed analysis of the existing political context in Ireland drawing upon history, I gave a personal opinion as to why both armed struggle and the IRA exist.

"At no stage did I encourage anyone to join any organisation. At no stage did I encourage anyone to engage in violence against anyone."

Fennell also claimed in the statement that his arrest was "politically motivated".

The defendant's barrister launched two separate applications to get the charges against him withdrawn.

However, these requests were refused by trial judge Geoffery Miller QC.

The defence barrister asked the judge to consider that the speech given by his client was within the context of a commemorative ceremony, adding there was "nothing in the message that would encourage people to commit acts of terrorism".

The barrister also accepted that while Fennell's comments about the Royal Family were "distasteful", this could not be deemed as encouragement to carry out violence.

After listening to submissions, Judge Miller reserved judgment and said he would give a ruling "as soon as is practical".

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