A “family man” from south Armagh who got involved with a cross-border gang that carried out a series of cash machine heists using diggers wept yesterday as he was jailed by the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.
The non-jury court also denied the defendant’s request for a postponement of the sentence to allow him to spend Christmas with his children.
Niall Finnegan (39) of Cherry Grove, Cullyhanna, Co Armagh, pleaded guilty in July at the three-judge court to possessing or handling €103,930 (£88,000) at The Yard, Tullypole, Moynalty, Co Meath, following an ATM theft on 20 August 2019.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Tony Hunt jailed Finnegan for four-and-a-half years, suspending the final 18 months for three years for possessing the cash, which was the proceeds of ATM thefts carried out by a criminal gang.
Finnegan’s barrister Breffni Gordon BL asked the court to consider postponing jailing him until after Christmas so he could spend the holiday with his three children.
Mr Justice Hunt denied the application, saying Finnegan would be better off starting the sentence now and have the Christmas “at the other end” without a sentence hanging over him.
Detective Sergeant Mark Looby had given evidence to the court about an investigation into six ATM thefts in Cavan and Monaghan between September 2018 and August 2019.
The judge said they had been carried out by what gardaí believed to be a cross-border gang based in east Monaghan and south Armagh.
Mr Looby said the gang had used excavators to rip the ATMs from their locations and had caused “significant amounts of criminal damage” during six raids and attempted raids around the border.
He also said the gang had stolen €790,000 before arrests were made two years ago by undercover detectives.
Mr Justice Hunt said that in the early hours of August 14, 2019, a grey Toyota Landcruiser and a flat-back truck were used to steal a 14-tonne digger on the Bailieborough Road in Virginia, Co Cavan.
The digger was to be used in the theft of the ATM at the Riverfront Hotel in the town but the Garda Emergency Response unit intervened. Two men were arrested and a third man was later arrested.
Mr Justice Hunt said that gardaí got a search warrant for a yard at Tullypole and found €289,900 in cash and a money counter in a shed.
One of the arrested men had at that stage been released by gardaí and was then driven to Tullypole by Finnegan in his Berlingo van where two packages of cash were dug up and put in the shed.
Finnegan and this male left and returned with a third male in a Toyota Avensis later in the day and put €15,000 in the car and €88,930 in the boot of the Avensis, which was later discovered to be registered in a false name.
Mr Justice Hunt said that while Finnegan admitted to twice driving to Tullypole on the day, he denied any involvement with the ATM thefts.
The judge said Finnegan had an assault conviction from 2002 for which he received a suspended sentence but that he had not come to adverse Garda attention since the incident on August 14, 2019.
He said the maximum sentence for the offence was 15 years imprisonment but the court had placed the crime at the lower end of the middle spectrum of offending.
At a sentencing hearing in October, Finnegan gave an undertaking to not be involved in any criminality nor associate with other named individuals before the courts on ATM theft charges.
Mr Justice Hunt gave Finnegan credit for his guilty plea, his co-operation with the investigation, his work history, work in the community and said that he was a family man.
However, the judge said that Finnegan had “no doubt” that he was aware of the background to the case in reference to the ATM thefts.
Mr Justice Hunt said there was no “romantic” reading of the crimes and said the court noted that crime cash was often used for funding further crime.
The loss of an ATM to a rural town, said the judge, was a “significant concern” to communities.
Mr Justice Hunt fixed six years as a pre-mitigation headline sentence, adding that he could not envisage a non-custodial sentence as it would “almost certainly be unduly lenient”.
The judge then gave Finnegan the full 25% discount for his guilty plea, resulting in a four-and-a-half year sentence, and suspended the final 18 months of the sentence for three years.
A family member embraced a tearful Mr Finnegan before he was then taken to the cells.