Why lax bail conditions are letting thugs like Damien Fennell laugh at legal system
Dissident was filmed lambasting Catholic priest while awaiting trial on terror charge
Around 150 Irish republicans from both sides of the border gathered in Newry on Saturday, September 24 for the first ard fheis (conference) of a new republican party. There, in the luxury of the Canal Court Hotel, with its own leisure complex, they launched an organisation named Saoradh (liberation).
The first indication that a new party was on the way came on Easter Sunday from David Jordan, a former republican prisoner from Donaghmore, when he spoke at a commemoration in Coalisland. Jordan is currently on bail after being charged with trying to murder a PSNI officer in a bomb attack in Castlederg in 2008.
The event had been organised by the National Republican Commemoration Committee, which represents dissident republican prisoners, and the marchers included 60 men and women dressed in military-style uniforms.
The fact that someone who is out on bail and accused of attempted murder is able to take part in such an event, with all its paramilitary trappings, is absolutely ridiculous. There is something badly wrong with a system that allows that to happen.
Then, in July, Paul Duffy, from Lurgan, a brother of prominent dissident republican Colin Duffy, told a Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown that ongoing discussions would lead to the formation of a new movement.
Paul Duffy was charged in 2014 with involvement in a plot to murder a prison governor, prison officers and a police officer, but was then released on bail.
Moving on, then, to the Saoradh launch in Newry, Thomas Ashe Mellon, from Londonderry, read out a statement from New IRA prisoners, while the audience included Colin Duffy and Damien ‘Dee’ Fennell, from Belfast.
Mellon was sentenced in July 2015 on a terrorism-related charge, but seems to be out and about again.
Jordan was elected chairman of Saoradh, so the new party leader is a former IRA prisoner who is out on bail on an attempted murder charge.
At the ard fheis he delivered a speech in which he accused Sinn Fein of “administering British rule in Ireland”.
Then move forward exactly one week, to Saturday, October 1, and move from Newry to north Belfast.
Early that morning three Orange lodges and two local bands were able to complete their parade back up the Crumlin Road to Ligoniel.
The Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (Garc) staged a protest against the parade and then turned its ire on the local Roman Catholic priest, Fr Gary Donegan, Sunday Life journalist Christopher Woodhouse and Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly.
There are several YouTube clips on the internet of Dee Fennell lambasting Fr Donegan, and Gerard McCusker launching a vicious and foul-mouthed verbal assault on Mr Woodhouse.
McCusker actually threatened Woodhouse and said: “I’m coming after you... you’ll have a bad fall one night.”
A third angry republican protester also directed a sustained and equally foul-mouthed assault on the priest.
Much of what he said has been bleeped out because of the bad language, but the message and the hatred are absolutely clear.
Now, Fennell is currently out on bail on a charge of inviting support for a proscribed organisation.
This relates to a speech he made in St Colman’s graveyard in Lurgan on Easter Sunday 2015, more than a year ago.
When the judge granted him bail, he said: “You are to refrain from any public speaking.”
Fennell’s exchange with the priest might be described by some people as a conversation, while others might describe it as a confrontation, but however one describes his public performance, is this not, in some way, a breach of his bail conditions?
If he is speaking at a public protest, in front of a crowd and the Press, then surely, it constitutes “public speaking”? That’s why I have asked the PSNI to investigate it.
And when you look across all of these cases, the ease with which bail is granted and the laxity of bail conditions, I think most people will be strongly of the view that it’s time for a radical rethink and a much more stringent approach.