The trial of former IRA chief Brendan ‘Bik’ McFarlane was brought to a sudden climax on Thursday afternoon, when the non-jury Special Criminal Court in Dublin dismissed all charges against him.

Mr McFarlane is well known for his role as head of the IRA inside Long Kesh during the 1981 hunger strike and the 1983 mass escape.

The ten-year saga over his prosecution, which at one point had threatened to undermine the peace process, concluded when prosecutors said they would be presenting no further evidence in court. After a short recess, the panel of three judges acquitted Mr McFarlane without calling the defence.

After years of delay and legal argument, the republican veteran was finally facing charges relating to an incident in 1983 when the joint forces of the 26-County state launched a military assault on an armed IRA unit in a remote part of County Leitrim. A civilian, Don Tidey, was being held captive by the IRA at the camp at the time.

In a chaotic and disastrous shoot-out, a member of the Garda police and a member of the 26-County Army tragically lost their lives.

Following his escape in 1983, Mr McFarlane was arrested in Amsterdam in January 1986, extradited to the North and released in 1997. He was arrested by gardai outside Dundalk in 1998.

The court ruled that “admissions” which the Garda police claimed had been made by Mr McFarlane in Dundalk following his arrest, could not be admitted as evidence.

Justice Paul Butler said doubt had been cast over the existence of the statements for a number of reasons, including the fact that Mr McFarlane had refused to answer any questions. He also noted that there had been problems and inconsistencies with the recording, dates and content of the alleged admissions.

Last week, the court also heard that alleged fingerprint evidence against McFarlane, said by Gardai to have been taken from items at the IRA camp, “could not be found”.

The prosecution had been blasted by republicans as vindictive and a “judicial farce”.

Speaking outside the court, Mr McFarlane said he wanted to put the trial behind him and get on with his life.

“Firstly, I’m very, very relieved that this has been brought to an end. It’s been a long ten years and it’s been an extremely difficult period for myself and my family.

“What I want to say is that I am very, very grateful to the excellent legal team that I’ve had here. They’ve worked arduously over the last ten years to bring about the result that has been given here today and I’m extremely grateful to them for the work that they’ve put in,” he said.

“What I want to do now is put this behind me and move on, go back home and get on with life with my family.”

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