The trial of senior Provisional IRA figure ‘Bik’ McFarlane has opened at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.
McFarlane was the IRA O/C at Long Kesh prison during the 1981 hunger strikes and escaped in the mass breakout in September 1983. He is charged with being among an IRA active service unit which was holding a man captive in a remote part of County Leitrim in 1983.
During a surprise assault by 26-County forces, a trainee garda officer and a soldier were tragically killed during an exchange of gunfire.
In March McFarlane lost a legal challenge to stop the case going through the courts, following years of delays by the state.
The extraordinary prosecution, 25 years after the original incident and after over a decade of a successful peace process, has angered republicans. The evidence against McFarlane is understood to be flawed or non-existent.
The trial began in the non-jury Special Criminal Court on Wednesday with Sinn Fein TD, Martin Ferris observing proceedings from the public gallery.
Opening the trial, prosecutor Edward Comyn claimed that items found at the hideout had fingerprints on them linking McFarlane to the crime.
This evidence had since been lost, he admitted, but claimed that photgraphs of the fingerprints remained.
The loss of the original evidence sparked an initial challenge by McFarlane in 1999. He finally lost his legal challenge in March to stop the case going through the courts.
Even if found guilty and jailed, it is thought McFarlane should be eligible for immediate release under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
TWO MONTHS FOR SHOUKRI
Meanwhile, it has emerged that UDA ‘brigadier’ Ihab Shoukri will serve just two months in jail after a conviction for his part in a unionist paramilitary ‘show of strength’ in 2006.
At the time of his arrest Shoukri had been on police bail awaiting trial on separate UDA membership charges.
Sentencing Shoukri last week, Justice Coghlin told him that he had only escaped a longer prison term because of recent progress in the peace process.
“In my view it would be unrealistic for the court to close its eyes to the significant changes that have taken place in this society since these offences were committed,” the judge said.
With time already served, it is expected that Shoukri will only have to spend another two months behind bars.
Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP have criticised the sentence.
STONE TRIAL ADJOURNED
Loyalist serial killer Michael Stone is to be defended by top London QC Orlando Pownall against charges of attempting to assassinate Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, it has been announced.
The trial of the 53-year-old Milltown Cemetery killer, who dismissed his defence QC Arthur Harvey last week, has now been adjourned until September.
The case was halted when defence QC Arthur Harvey told Mr Justice Deeny that his relationship with Stone, who launched an attack on the Belfast Assembly last year, had “broken down” over “irretrievable” differences. Stone has claimed his heavily-armed assault was “performance art”.