The nine Catalan separatist leaders sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison for sedition today have vowed to take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

Today's ruling followed weeks of rising tension - and puts the Catalan question at the heart of the political debate, less than a month before Spain heads into its fourth general election in as many years.

The 12 defendants were put on trial in February for their role in the banned October 2017 referendum and the short-lived independence declaration that followed it.

The harshest sentence of 13 years was handed to former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras who served as the main defendant in absence of Carles Puigdemont, the region's leader who fled Spain to Belgium to avoid prosecution.

Shortly after the verdicts were announced, an international arrest warrant was reissued for Mr Puigdemont, who was behind the push for independence. The warrant said Mr Puigdemont was wanted for alleged sedition and misuse of public funds.

In a tweet from Brussels, Mr Puigdemont denounced today's sentences as an "outrage".

"100 years in all. An outrage. Now more than ever, by your side and those of your families. It is time to react as never before," he wrote.

And in a letter released today, Mr Junqueras said the story was far from over.

"Nothing ends today, you neither win nor convince," he wrote in remarks directed at Spain's central government.

"We will come back even stronger... and win."

Spanish champions FC Barcelona also criticised the jail sentences handed to the leaders and instead called for "political dialogue".

The three other defendants were also found guilty today of disobedience and fined, whilst all defendants were acquitted of the most severe charge - rebellion.

Charges all relate to independence referendum of 2017

The charges all relate to the independence referendum held in Catalonia in October 2017. Close to 90% of Catalans backed independence in this vote - but the turn out was just 43%. The vote was declared illegal by Spain's Constitutional Court.

An opinion poll in July showed over 48% of Catalans were against secession from Spain with 44% in favour.

Spain's Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said today it was time to "turn the page" in relations with Catalonia following the sentencings.

He said: "Nobody is above the law. In a democracy like Spain's nobody is subject to trial for his or her ideas but rather for criminal conduct as provided by the law," he said in English and Spanish after Spain's Supreme Court issued its long-awaited verdicts.

"Today's decision confirms the defeat of a movement that failed to gain internal support and international recognition. Following the Supreme Court decision we need to turn the page based on peaceful co-existence in Catalonia through dialogue," he added.

"We can start a new chapter for a modern, plural and tolerant Catalonia taking its rightful place in Spain."

What has the reaction been in Ireland?

The Sinn Féin party here has called the jailings "an affront to democratic values" and has called on the Irish Government to speak out and condemn what it called "this outrageous decision".

The party says it will urgently raise the issue in the Dáil and its Foreign Affairs spokesperson Seán Crowe said: "I am absolutely outraged at the jailing of these nine Catalan political and civil society leaders. I want to send my solidarity to each one of them and their families at this extremely emotional and difficult time.

"The jailing of these political prisoners is an affront to democratic values and should be of huge concern to democrats and all those who believe in freedom of expression around the world."

Speaking to RTÉ News, the Spanish Ambassador to Ireland said that the law must prevail in Spain. Ambassador Ildefonso Castro said: "It's a judicial decision in a criminal procedure that has come to an end."

He added: "You are free to think whatever you see fit but it's clear the rule of law prevails. There was a decision by the Spanish Supreme Court about what happened in those events two years ago. It's not about ideas or politics, it's about true events that the court considers was a breach of Spanish law."

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He said the Spanish government stood ready to start any dialogue "to restore the co-existence, mainly among Catalans themselves, because that's one of the main problems".

As thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Barcelona today, the Ambassador said: "I hope that there won't be any kind of violence. Violence does not help things so we have to move forward after this decision by the Supreme court and you know we are in a process of integration in Europe so it makes no sense to break our countries, to break the process of integration for Europe."

He added: "The problem is in Catalonia there is a split among Catalans. Some of them, they want independence, some of them want to remain as part of Spain... so the question is that we have to find co-existence and the framework for that is the constitution."

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Government here is aware of the verdicts handed down by Spain's Supreme Court.

The spokesperson said: "We respect the separation of the powers in Spain, as in Ireland, and it would not be appropriate to comment on a case ruled upon by the Spanish courts.

"With regard to Catalonia, the Government's position remains that the constitutional and political arrangements in Spain are matters to be determined by their own citizens, through their own institutions, in keeping with the rule of law."