IRA note smuggled out of Portlaoise Prison among a bundle of Christmas cards - accused claims

Note described debriefing of three men involved in an intercepted IRA operation

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Portlaoise Prison

A secret IRA communiqué allegedly smuggled out of Portlaoise Prison could have been among a bundle of 'Christmas cards' a man who is standing trial for membership of the terrorist group has claimed. 

The note was claimed to describe a debriefing of three men involved in an intercepted IRA operation was to be delivered to the dissident group's leadership in Northern Ireland, the Special Criminal Court heard yesterday, May 2.

Previously, the court has heard that a detective was searching Brian Kenna (54) outside Portlaoise prison when the "communiqué" fell from the accused man's pocket.

Mr Kenna, with an address at Crumlin Park, Crumlin, Dublin has pleaded not guilty to membership of an unlawful organisation within the State, namely Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the Irish Republican Army, otherwise the IRA on November 21st, 2015.

It is the prosecution's case that gardai caught Mr Kenna smuggling an "IRA communiqué" out of Portlaoise prison.

Detective Chief Superintendent Tom Maguire, of the Special Detective Unit (SDU), told prosecuting counsel Ronan Kennedy BL yesterday Tuesday, May 2 that he examined photographs of the "communiqué".

He said that the message, a "secret IRA communication", was written on three pieces of cigarette paper adhered together.

He told the court that it had been taken from Portlaoise prison and was to be given to the IRA leadership in Northern Ireland.

Det Chief Supt Maguire said that he believed the document was a debriefing, related to an "intercepted IRA operation", on three men who at that time were charged with offences at the Special Criminal Court.

Two of the men, Conor Hughes and Darren Fox, later pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a sawn-off shotgun and two shotgun cartridges at Kyletaun, Rathkeale, County Limerick on October 31st, 2015.

A third man, James Smithers, was found guilty of membership of the IRA on the same date.

The chief supt said that debriefing was conducted by the "commanding officer of the IRA in Portlaoise prison".

He added that the communiqué also referred to three other men by their initials, and that he believes these men are leading members of the IRA in Northern Ireland.

The court also heard evidence of interviews conducted by gardai with Mr Kenna.

Detective Garda Paul Duffy, SDU, told Mr Kennedy that the accused man was questioned under Section 2 of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, 1998. The section allows a court to draw inferences from a suspected person's failure or refusal to answer questions regarding alleged IRA membership.

When detectives asked Mr Kenna if he had travelled to Portlaoise prison to further IRA activities, he replied: "Absolutely not,". He said he had travelled there in his role as member of the Irish Prisoners' Welfare Association (IRPWA).

He told the guards that the purpose of visit was the raise concerns about the welfare of republican prisoners.

Mr Kenna said that he was not aware of any secret communication and a detective had told him it had fallen from his pocket he was unaware of it.

The accused man said: "I was handed a number of Christmas cards and envelopes. If the note was, unknown to me, among the cards, that was something I had no control over."

The trial continues in front of Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, sitting with Judge John O'Hagan and Judge Flann Brennan.