Dublin man sentenced for smuggling IRA message out of Portlaoise Prison in Christmas cards

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Portlaoise Prison

IRA members jailed in Portlaoise Prison

Man was given early release in 1995 under the Good Friday Agreement peace process after being jailed for bank robbery

A Dublin man who used Christmas cards as a cover to smuggle an IRA communiqué out of Portlaoise prison has been jailed for 16 months by the Special Criminal Court.

Brian Kenna (56) of Crumlin Park, Crumlin, Dublin had denied membership of an unlawful organisation within the State, namely Oglaigh na hEireann, otherwise the Irish Republican Army, otherwise the IRA on November 21st, 2015.

Earlier this month, Kenna was found guilty of IRA membership by the Special Criminal Court.

At Monday's brief sentence hearing, Detective Inspector William Hanrahan, of the Special Detective Unit, told the court that Kenna had one previous conviction for which he was jailed for ten years in 1990 after a bank raid at Enniscorthy in Co Wexford. The court heard he was given early release in 1995 as part of the peace process.

Ms Siobhan Stack SC, for Kenna, told the court that her client is an entirely different person from when he was first in prison. The court heard that Kenna had been working with the HSE since 2007 and had an “exemplary work record”. “His work involved assisting people on drugs and and those coming out of prison to turn their lives around. He has been very successful doing that,” said Ms Stack.

References from various people of difference backgrounds were submitted to the court. The court heard that Kenna was “brilliant” at his job and “a huge amount” of people’s lives had been improved by him. Ms Stack said her client also had an impressive CV of social work outside of his employment.

Counsel said that while Kenna obviously forfeits his employment, his brother is in a position to offer him work.

Ms Stack told the court that the transportation of the note by Kenna was a “one-off event” and there was nothing to suggest that her client’s role ever went beyond this.

“In view of everything you have said it makes it inexplicable that he chose to engage in this nonsense,” interjected Mr Justice Tony Hunt.

Sentencing Kenna today (Monday), Mr Justice Hunt, presiding, sitting with Judge John O’Hagan and Judge Flann Brennan, said that the evidence heard by the court indicated that the accused was a member of an unlawful organisation on the day in question but it did not go any further than that.

The judge said that while there is no doubt that Kenna intentionally took this item out of Portlaoise Prison, he did not or could not have known what was in it.

“Although he was careless as to not knowing the contents of the note, the contents seemed to relate to some internal aspect of the organisation in regards to the behaviour of people recently on remand,” he said.

Mr Justice Hunt said the contents of the notes were towards the lower end of the scale of gravity.

He stressed to the court that if Kenna had been caught with a note which went beyond the internal affairs of this operation, “a relatively different view” in terms of gravity would have had to be taken by the court.

The judge called Kenna “a lucky man” that the note did not contain anything more serious but added that the accused behaved in a “reckless fashion” as to the contents of the note.

He said that Kenna’s previous conviction was an aggravating factor but it was a very long time ago and he had served his sentence which was remitted by the Executive. He said Kenna had put his time “to good use” in the community since then.

The court heard that among the mitigating factors were Kenna’s age, his family circumstances, the loss of his job considering the positive way he had applied himself to his work and the fact that the trial was run in an economical way with concessions having been made.

Mr Justice Hunt said that there must be a custodial sentence in this case and instead of imposing a two-year sentence, the court would sentence Kenna to 16 months in prison.

The sentence was backdated to May 4 of this year.

“Mr Kenna can rest assured that if he commits another membership offence the result will be very different next time around so let there not be a next time,” he added.

During his trial, the court heard evidence from Garda Assistant Commissioner Michael O'Sullivan who said that he believed Kenna was an IRA member on the date in question.

Supporting evidence for the assistant commissioner's belief was that in November 2014 Chief Superintendent Tom Maguire briefed members of the Special Detective Unit (SDU) of the information that Kenna would be in Portlaoise prison engaging in IRA activities.

Three SDU members, including Detective Sergeant Padraig Boyce, travelled to Portlaoise on November 21st.

The court saw CCTV footage of Kenna arriving at Portlaoise prison at 10:20am. Later that afternoon, when he left, he was seen holding white objects in his left hand, which gardai later discovered were Christmas cards.

Kenna was stopped by the detectives in the prison's carpark, and was searched by Det Sgt Boyce. When the detective turned out Kenna's jeans' right pocket a small item wrapped in Clingfilm fell to the ground.

Kenna denied any knowledge of the item and laughed.

The detectives recognized the item as an IRA communiqué.

Inside the Clingfilm were three cigarette papers, adhered together, and covered in handwriting.

The message described a debriefing that had been carried out of three men recently arrested after an intercepted IRA operation in Rathkeale, Co Limerick. The men had been in custody in Portlaoise prison but had been released on bail.

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 message said that the men had "behaved as expected in custody" and was signed by the commanding officer of the IRA in Portlaoise prison.

Delivering judgement on May 11, Mr Justice Tony Hunt, presiding, said that the court was satisfied it was a communiqué in relation to IRA activities, suggesting that the three men had been observed and debriefed in prison.

Mr Justice Hunt said it was not a reasonable proposition that the document came to be in Kenna's pocket without his "knowledge, input or consent".

It was "an active and deliberate act in the furtherance of the aims of the IRA", the judge said, adding that carrying the message was a task that was "not to be entrusted to the ignorant or the untrustworthy".