Dee Fennell acquitted of terrorist offences after speech at Lurgan Easter Rising event
North Belfast republican Damien 'Dee' Fennell was acquitted on Monday of terrorist offences arising from a speech he gave at an Easter Rising event in Lurgan in 2015.
In a ruling delivered at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC said that while some of the words used by Mr Fennell in his speech could be deemed offensive "in the ears of many right-thinking members of society", they were his personal opinion - and did not amount to inviting and encouraging people to join the IRA.
Judge Miller presided over the non-jury trial in September, when the Crown made the case that Mr Fennell was guilty of three terrorist offences - namely encouraging terrorism, inviting support for the Irish Republican Army and encouraging support for the IRA.
The charges arose from a speech lasting eight minutes and 22 seconds which was delivered by Mr Fennell - who was introduced at the event as a 'dedicated Republican activist' - to a crowd of around 70 people on April 5, 2015 at St Coleman's cemetery in Lurgan.
The speech was later uploaded onto the Irish Republican Prisoner Welfare Association's YouTube and Facebook pages.
It was the Crown's case that some of the words and messages that were said and subsequently published online amounted to both encouraging terrorism and encouraging support for the IRA.
A section of the speech criticised Sinn Fein for welcoming the Queen to Ireland, with Mr Fennell telling those at the cemetery: "The only welcome the IRA gave to a member of the British Royal family was delivered in a boat off the coast of Sligo."
Saying this was a specific reference to the 1979 murder of Lord Mountbatten, Judge Miller said that while there as "little doubt" most people would find these comments "deeply objectionable", it did not amount to encouraging or inviting support for the IRA.
When he was arrested a fortnight after making the speech, Mr Fennell was taken to Antrim Serious Crime Suite. He declined to answer police questions, but a pre-prepared statement was handed to police on his behalf by his solicitor.
The father of six made the case that he gave his personal opinion as opposed to encouraging anyone to engage in violence. He said the Sinn Fein rebuke and the anti-monarchy elements of the speech were his own personal option, and denied encouraging anyone to join the IRA.
Mr Fennell also declined to give evidence during the Diplock trial - a move Judge Miller said had "effectively closed the door to any cross-examination" which may have determined his intention.
Regarding the charge of encouraging terrorism, Judge Miller said everyone had the right to freedom of speech in a democratic society. Pointing out that Mr Fennell was not responsible for uploading the material, Judge Miller said: "He is entitled to be acquitted on count one as he is entitled to free speech."
Acquitting Mr Fennell of the remaining two charges, the Judge said: "However offensive the words used by the defendant might be in the ears of many right-thinking members of society, they were expressions of personal opinion, which did not invite or encourage support for the IRA."
Belfast Telegraph Digital