Seven men caught in a MI5 bugging operation targeting the Continuity IRA were today handed prison sentences totalling 33 years.

The defendants pleaded guilty at Belfast Crown Court in January this year to charges arising from of a covert MI5 surveillance operation against the Continuity IRA in Newry almost six years ago.

Patrick Joseph 'Mooch' Blair, 65, of Lissara Heights, Warrenpoint, Co Down; Joseph Matthew Lynch, 79, of Beechgrove Avenue, Weston, Co Limerick; Liam Hannaway, 50, of White Rise, Dunmurry in west Belfast; John Sheehy, 36, of Erskine Street, Newry and Colin Patrick Winters, 49, of Ardcarn Park, Newry, all pleaded guilty to charges of belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation, providing weapons and explosives training, conspiring to possess explosives, firearms and ammunition with intent to endanger life.

They further admitted conspiracy to possess explosives, firearms and ammunition with intent, along with preparing acts of terrorism.

Blair, Hannaway and Winters also admitted collecting information likely to be of use to terrorists.

Sheehy further pleaded guilty to attending a meeting at Ardcarn Park for the purposes of terrorist training.

Winters also admitted to allowing his Ardcarn Park home to be used for the purposes of a terrorist meeting.

Liam Hannaway was jailed for five years

The court previously heard that Winters had passed away in August.

As well as admitting, he received weapons training, Lynch further pleaded guilty to two counts of attending a meeting for terrorist purposes.

Seamus Morgan, 64, of Barcroft Park, Newry; Kevin John Paul Heaney, 47, of Blackstaff Mews, Springfield Road in west Belfast and Terence Marks, 60, of Parkhead Crescent, Newry, all pleaded guilty to belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation.

Marks also admitted to a further charge of receiving training in the making or use of explosives for terrorism.

All of the offences took place on dates between 11 August 2014 and 11 November 2014.

'Mooch' Blair and Hannaway today received five years in jail and were also found to pose a danger to the public in the future because of their previous terrorist convictions.

Seamus Morgan pleaded guilty to belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation

Passing sentence on the pair, Mr Justice Colton said neither man had "disavowed their involvement in dissident republican activity''.

The senior judge said that it was evident from the tape recordings that both men played "significant and leading roles'' at those meetings of the Continuity IRA.

He told the two-hour sentencing hearing that after serving five years in jail, it would be up to the Parole Commissioners to decide if it was safe to release them back into the community.

Mr Justice Colton told Belfast Crown Court that the contents of the discussions, which included plots to kill and make bombs, made for "grim and depressing reading''.

He added: "All right thinking people and law abiding citizens believe that the days of shootings, killings and explosions are in the past."

Although the defendants faced only conspiracy charges, Mr Justice Colton said the plots had been "thwarted'' when police raided the meeting house in Newry's Ardcarn Park on 10 November 2014.

The court heard today that the secret recordings revealed:

  • a plot to target a senior prison governor while out walking in Co Down;
  • a plot to target specific police officers;
  • robbery plots on homes for cash and legally-held firearms;
  • a plot to steal sulphur from a factory in Dublin to make explosives;
  • a plot to buy a silencer for £2,000 for an automatic handgun that 'Mooch' Blair had in his possession;
  • frustrations at the lack of weapons, ammunition, low membership numbers and finances to fund its terror campaign;
  • training of individuals in the making of pipe bombs and the use of firearms.
Terence Marks pleaded guilty to belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation

It was the prosecution case that 'Mooch' Blair was the leader of the Continuity IRA, while Hannaway was his number two.

The prosecution said Lynch was third in the pecking order of the Continuity IRA leadership.

Unlike Blair and Hannaway, Mr Justice Colton said Lynch had now cut all ties with dissident republican activity, quoting the defendant telling his defence counsel: "It's all over for me.''

The judge said that like Hannaway and Blair, Lynch had pleaded guilty to "serious and specified'' offences, but he did not believe he posed a danger to the public in the future.

Lynch received a six-and-a-half year sentence, with three years and three months to be spent in custody and the remainder on supervised licence on his release.

Sheehy, who travelled from his home in Listowel, Co Kerry, to receive instructions in bomb-making, was handed a six-year sentence, with half to be spent in custody and half on licence.

The court heard John Sheehy received instructions in bomb-making

Marks, who received instructions in the use of explosives for terrorist purposes, was told he would serve two years in jail, followed by two years on licence.

Heaney was handed a three-and-a-half year sentence, divided equally between custody and probation.

Kevin John Paul Heaney pleaded guilty to belonging or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation

Morgan, who was jailed in 1975 for causing an explosion at the Ardmore Hotel in Newry, was told he would serve 18 months in custody, followed by 18 months on licence.

All the defendants were made the subject of counter terrorism notifications, ranging from ten years up to 30 years.