We would ask that you read the following brief account of what we view as a very serious case that points to a further erosion of civil liberties in the 26 counties state, an attempt to use the Special Criminal Court to significantly stifle political opinion, and the abuse of the system by a corrupt police force to attain convictions.
On 11th May 2017, Brian Kenna was found guilty of IRA membership in the Special Criminal Court. On Monday 29th May, Brian was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment which is low for this “offence” but he should never have been charged with this offence never mind being found guilty and sentenced.
The evidence against him was the word of Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan, who acknowledged that he had never heard of or come across Mr Kenna during his garda career. The evidence that he based his opinion on was not made known to the court nor to the defence; but emanated from files he had read over a two day period in Feb 2017.
The other evidence was a wrapped up piece of paper – a supposed prison communication which was found on Mr Kenna when he was arrested leaving Portlaoise Gaol on 21st November 2015. Brian was a regular visitor to the prison as a member of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association which assists and supports prisoners and their families in a wide variety of ways.
Some points of note in relation to this case:
– Brian Kenna while on bail was required to adhere to a midnight curfew and sign on twice daily in his local Garda station and not to travel to the 6 counties. From July 2016 he was put on the strictest of bail conditions, namely – a midnight curfew – sign on once a day – to give notice each night of what his movements would be for the duration of the next day, to include where he would be going, the times, what car he would be driving and who he would be meeting with. It is also worthwhile to note that Brian Kenna was employed as a drugs outreach worker with the HSE and he was required to cover an area of 4 counties. Any deviation from his proposed movements would be noted as an infringement of his bail conditions. He kept within the conditions despite the very serious affect it had on him mentally and on his family.
– An additional requirement of bail from July 2016 was that Brian Kenna was not allowed to attend any meetings – public or private and was not to involve himself in any public event that could be held to be political.
During the trial some items of note are:
– The court held that the seizure of Brian Kenna’s car on the day of his arrest was illegal and that he would at a future stage be entitled to take legal action against the Gardai involved.
– The court held that none of the interviews of Brian Kenna could be used as evidence as they had been conducted illegally due to the lack of properly informing Brian of the implications of Section 2 (the revoking of the right to silence during an interview) in how he could answer certain questions.
– The prosecution could find no DNA link to Brian Kenna on the comm he was alleged to have smuggled out of the prison.
– The prosecution acknowledged that they agreed that Brian Kenna could not have known what the contents of the tightly wrapped pieced of paper were.
– The CCTV footage of Brian Kenna’s arrest did not feature the actual arrest which took place out of view however as he was been driven away the camera followed proceedings as if being operated by an individual. His arrest had involved significant commotion due to the fact that a member of the public had become involved as well as the fact that the Irish Defence Forces had reported a person acting suspiciously outside the maximum security prison which surely would have then led to camera operators being vigilant. The person acting suspiciously actually turned out to be a member of the SDU who subsequently was involved in the arrest of Brian Kenna in the Gaol car park.
-The witness from the Irish Prison service CCTV section gave evidence that he was contacted by Det Sargent Padraig Boyce in April of this year, nearly 18 months after the incident and just a few days before the trial started, he was asked to download footage for the entire day 21st November 2015. But when he logged into the computer system there was already a file created for that date called Brian Kenna so that is what he downloaded not the footage of the entire day as requested. Tom Maguire who was the superintendent of the SDU in November 2015 in his evidence said he was in possession of CCTV before they officially asked for the footage.
We would hope you would understand why this case raises a number of serious issues in relation to the conduct of the Special Criminal Court and the behaviour of the Garda Special Detective Unit especially the fact that the Garda who searched Brian’s jeans pocket and allegedly saw a “com” fall from to ground is Det Sargent Padraig Boyce.
In 2010, Padraig Boyce was convicted of drink driving in a Garda car, while on duty, and on the wrong side of the road. Earlier this year a trial collapsed as Mr Boyce was taped threatening to take kids away from a family unless the father admitted to possession of firearms. This Garda should have been sacked but he was allowed give evidence against Brian Kenna and the two statements he made to the prosecution had massive inaccuracies that were pointed out by the defence.
In this day and age, especially given the recent revelations of criminality and corruption within the Gardai from the top down how can the word of a Garda no matter what rank they hold be taken as gospel truth and be unchallenged.
A Garda can stand up in the SCC and claim someone is a member of an illegal organisation and claim the information he or she has is confidential, this added to very weak physical evidence (a piece of paper in this case) is now enough to convict someone of membership.
This case is a prime example of why the Special Criminal Court needs to be abolished – it is a non jury military tribunal set up on a temporary basis over 60 years ago which has no place in the Ireland of 2017.