Seven men accused of involvement in alleged Continuity IRA terror plots which were covertly recorded by MI5 have been granted bail.
Despite prosecution objections that the men posed a risk of further offences, absconding or interfering with the ongoing investigation, District Judge Eamon King said he was releasing the alleged terrorists on their own bail of £950 with conditions that they each have two sureties, report to police and do not associate with each other.
Before hearing submissions from defence solicitors at Newry Magistrates Court, the judge had initially refused to release alleged terror chiefs Patrick Blair (59) and Liam Hannaway (45), but their lawyers Peter Corrigan and Mark Austin raised objections, telling the judge they had not made submissions in the belief that he intended to release the men.
Following defence submissions where the lawyers argued that no difference should be made between Hannaway, Blair and their co-accused, the judge changed his mind and said he was prepared to grant them bail.
Judge King said he himself had listed the case against the eight men after a successful bail application for 54-year-old Terence Marks at Belfast High Court last week, where Mr Justice Maguire took the view that despite him posing a risk of committing further crimes, delays in the preparation of the prosecution case meant he was taking a decision to release the alleged terrorist.
Another defendant, Sean O'Neill (76) from Parkhead Crescent, Newry, has already been bailed on compassionate grounds as he has terminal cancer.
In all, 10 men are jointly charged after months of covert recordings of meetings at the Ardcarn Park home of defendant Colin Winters (44) where, according to the Crown case, tapes revealed plans for attacks on transport infrastructure and sniper strikes on high-profile targets.
Other topics allegedly discussed included membership of an outlawed organisation, weapons procurement and training, terrorist funding, recruitment and plans to commit acts of terrorism.
The five men facing a count of directing terrorism, along with the four other charges including IRA membership, conspiring to possess explosives, firearms and ammunition and preparing terrorist acts are: Patrick Joseph Blair (59), from Villas Park, Dundalk; Liam James Hannaway (45), from White Rise, Dunmurry, Co Antrim; Joseph Matthew Lynch (74), from Beechgrove Avenue, Limerick; Sean O'Neill (76), from Quinn's Cottages, Limerick, and Colin Patrick Winters (44), from Ardcarn Park, Newry.
Facing four charges is John Sheehy (31), from Clounmacon, Listowel, Co Kerry. His bail application was adjourned until next week to allow his defence team an opportunity to find him a suitable address.
Terence Marks is accused of IRA membership and conspiring to cause an explosion, while fellow Newry man Kevin Heaney (42), from Mourne View Park, is accused of membership and receiving instructions on terrorism.
Facing a single charge of membership is Seamus Morgan (59), from Barcroft Park, also Newry, while Joseph Pearce (45), from Cloyharevan Park in Bessbrook, is charged with two counts of collecting information likely to be of use to terrorists.
All the offences are alleged to have occurred between August 1 and November 11 last year.
Yesterday, a prosecutor revealed that, according to voice comparison expert Professor French, the voices of each defendant ranged from "distinctive to highly distinctive", and that for some of the men, his comparisons provided "strong support" for the argument it was those individuals speaking on the covert recordings.
The lawyer said, according to the expert, it was not Heaney who had taken verbal instructions on how to make a pipe bomb but allegedly Winters, whose home had been bugged. Heaney had been present at the property.
Pearce, claimed the lawyer, had been recorded discussing the purchase of ammunition and fertiliser, describing a named prison officer and how British soldiers "would be an easy touch".