Belfast Telegraph

£10,285 and rising - cost of defending dissident Dee Fennell

By Rebecca Black

More than £10,000 of taxpayers money has been spent defending the head of a hardline nationalist residents group in court.

Damien 'Dee' Fennell from Torrens Avenue in Belfast, best known as a front man for the Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective (GARC), was accused of encouraging acts of terrorism, inviting support for the IRA and addressing a meeting to encourage support for the IRA.

The charges are in connection with a speech he gave during a 1916 commemoration event at St Colman's graveyard in Lurgan, Co Armagh on Easter Sunday, 2015.

In the address, which was recorded and posted online, Fennell described armed struggle against British rule as "legitimate".

Fennell denies all the charges against him.

He was banned from making public speeches or social media posts as part of his bail conditions.

Fennell is in receipt of legal aid and so far it can be revealed that his legal defence has cost £10,285.

This comprises £1,982.45 for a solicitor to represent him in a magistrate's court, and then a solicitor (£2,528.40), junior consul (£2,168.40) and senior consul (£3,607.20) to represent him before the Crown Court.

The figures were published following an Assembly Question asked by DUP MLA Lord Morrow.

Fennell also launched an unsuccessful High Court bid to have his prosecution declared null and void last month.

However, the Department of Justice has refused to say how much this cost the taxpayer.

In Justice Minister Claire Sugden's response she said that those figures could not be supplied.

"In relation to civil legal aid applications received before April 1, 2015, this is governed by Article 24 of the Legal Aid, Advice and Assistance (NI) Order 1981," she said.

"For applications received on or after April 1, 2015, the non-disclosure falls under the Civil Legal Services (Disclosure of Information) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015."

Members of GARC opposed the historic deal which saw a resolution to north Belfast's three-year-old parading impasse last month, and carried out two protests against it.

The deal reached meant an Orange parade was allowed to stage its return parade after it was banned by the Parades Commission in 2013.

In ugly scenes, members of GARC verbally abused veteran Ardoyne priest Father Gary Donegan for his support for the deal.

DUP North Belfast MLA Nelson McCausland said many will be surprised by the sums.

"It is important that everyone has access to legal representation and that is part of our British legal system," he said.

"However, many people will be surprised that the cost of legal aid in this case has already reached more than £10,000 and the process is still at a very early stage. This reflects the wider problem of an ever-increasing legal aid budget.

"Moreover, public anger over legal aid issues is particularly strong in cases which are related to terrorism and the encouragement of others to join terrorist organisations."

Last month the Belfast Telegraph revealed how convicted double murderer Hazel Stewart had notched up a legal aid bill of almost £630,000.

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