A conviction by the juryless ‘Special Criminal Court’ (SCC) in Dublin has been overturned on appeal, raising new questions over a court whose main purpose has always been to efficiently imprison Irish republicans.
Darren Weldon, from County Meath, had been charged with membership of the IRA on October 14, 2014. It was claimed his DNA was found on the number plate of a car used in attack on Newry courthouse in 2010. He was declared guilty and sentenced to five years imprisonment on January 16, 2017.
Mr Weldon had his conviction overturned this week after the Court of Appeal found the trial court had made a “factually incorrect” finding in relation to a photo on Weldon’s iPhone which left a “substantial gap” in the SCC’s logic.
Mr Weldon had been arrested before, in September 2012, for suspected IRA membership, after attending the funeral of Real IRA leader Alan Ryan. He was one of six men subsequently jailed for attending what Gardai claimed was a “Real IRA training camp”.
The SCC found him guilty then because of a picture message dedicated to Alan Ryan, found on Mr Weldon’s phone, with the caption: “Heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done regardless of the consequences.” It also relied on a photo which, the court claimed, showed Mr Weldon in the company of two other individuals who had convictions for IRA membership.
In fact, the photo showed the late Vincent Ryan (the late Alan Ryan’s brother) and Philip Forsyth, neither of whom had convictions for IRA membership, and Mr Weldon was not even in the photo.
Mr Weldon’s conviction was quashed, although a retrial was ordered, again before the same non-jury court.
The Special ‘Criminal’ Court relies heavily on “belief evidence”, whereby it accepts any claim by a senior Garda that the defendant is an IRA member, in contravention of the European Convention right to a fair trial.
Many public figures and human rights organisations are on record calling for the abolition of the court, and a campaign is currently underway calling for its abolition.
But the court this week again jailed five more republicans on Garda accusations that they were taking part in an IRA meeting.
Kevin and Sean Hannaway, David Nooney, Eva Shannon and Edward O’Brien had faced what Saoradh described as “a show trial”.
Saoradh said the court was operating “a conveyer-belt system” to increase the number of political prisoners. It said it “remains concerned by the rise of political persecution and internment being directed at Irish Republicans in the 26 County state”.
It expected the situation to worsen following the appointment of PSNI Assistant Chief Drew Harris, “a Crown Force and MI5 asset”, as the new Garda police Commissioner in the South.