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Two charged with IRA membership in £26m Northern Bank probe

Two Sinn Fein members were today charged with membership of the IRA as part of an investigation into the £26.5 million Northern Bank robbery.

Tom Hanlon and George Hegarty were arrested in Cork, in the Irish Republic, last night by investigators probing the 2004 heist in Belfast.

Both were taken to the Republic's non-jury Special Criminal Court, which deals with terrorist and organised crime, under armed guard this morning, where they were charged.

Hanlon, 42, of Pembroke Row, Passage West, in Cork, is a former Sinn Fein councillor, and unsuccessfully stood for the party in the Dail (Irish Parliament) elections in 2002.

Hegarty, 62, of Donnybrook Cottages, Douglas, in Cork, is also known as a Sinn Fein member and republican.

The pair were arrested as part of Operation Phoenix, a huge cross-border investigation, involving anti-terrorist units, fraud squads and the Republic's Criminal Assets Bureau.

The court heard Hanlon, a father of four school children, made no reply when arrested on suspicion of being a member of an unlawful organisation, the IRA, on February 16, 2005.

Hegarty was also charged with being a member of the IRA on the same date.

A lawyer for Hegarty, a father of five on disability benefits, said he is a primary carer for his partner and his grown-up child who has a learning disability.

Mr Justice Paul Butler, presiding over the three-judge court, insisted a bail hearing should go ahead today despite prosecution calls for the pair to be remanded in custody for 48 hours.

The judge said he was taking into consideration the age of the alleged offences and evidence both men have lived in Cork and been available to investigators since February 2005.

The men are due before the court again this afternoon for a bail hearing.

Belfast Telegraph

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