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Real IRA attack suspect’s bid to vote while in custody is denied

A Co Tyrone man being questioned about a suspected Real IRA punishment attack has failed in an emergency legal bid to be allowed to cast his vote.

The suspect, who is being held at Antrim Serious Crime Suite under anti-terrorism laws, wanted police to take him to his polling station in Strabane and then back to the custody centre.

But his application for leave to seek a judicial review was dismissed following an urgent hearing at the High Court in Belfast.

Mr Justice Treacy held that his inability to vote “will not thwart the free expression of the people”.

The man was arrested on Wednesday afternoon and taken for questioning about alleged offences of possessing a firearm and a punishment attack on a man in Strabane on April 19.

The court was told the attack is believed to have been carried out by Republican Action Against Drugs — a cover name for the Real IRA.

With no option open for the man to vote by proxy, his current detention period was said to expire 22 minutes after polls close.

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His lawyers claimed the police refusal breached his entitlement to take part in the democratic process, was unlawful, irrational and unreasonable.

But David Dunlop, for the PSNI, argued against the application by pointing out he was being held under the Terrorism Act.

“A Tactical Support Group would have to be tasked to take him to Strabane, allow him to vote, and take him back to detention,” Mr Dunlop said.

“From the perspective of the police service it is not proportionate to expect he be transported roughly 80 miles, vote, and then returned.”

Ruling on the case, Mr Justice Treacy questioned why the application was not brought earlier in the man's detention.

The judge stressed: “Police are investigating serious terrorist crime and questioning the applicant. The detention is, by agreement, accepted as being lawful.

“The inability to vote as a consequence of that detention is a result of fortuitous circumstances if detention coincides with polling day.”

He added: “The suggestion that police should transport the applicant to Strabane to vote and then back to Antrim Serious Crime Suite to continue his questioning, apart from imposing an unreasonable burden on the police, would or might lengthen the applicant's detention and could frustrate or disrupt what is a serious terrorist investigation.”

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