Two Cork men who pleaded guilty to firearms offences after a garda investigation in to the “New IRA” will be sentenced at the non-jury Special Criminal Court next month.
Joseph Walsh (36) of Glengarriff Road, Fair Hill, Co Cork and Michael Gilmartin (47), with an address at Chestnut Drive, Cluain Ard, Newtown, Cobh, Co Cork both pleaded guilty to possession of firearms including a magazine suitable for a 9mm parabellum pistol, a 9mm parabellum pistol and a double-barrel sawn-off shotgun at Chestnut Drive, Cluain Ard, Newtown, Cobh, County Cork on September 14th last year.
They also admitted the possession of 14 rounds of 9mm ammunition and eight shotgun cartridges at the same place on the same date.
At a sentence hearing today, Detective Sergeant Patrick Murphy told Ronan Kennedy BL, for the State, that in late 2016 a garda operation to monitor subversives in the Cork area intensified. A new group, calling itself the New IRA, had come to the attention of gardai and had been under surveillance since April 2016.
As a result of their operations gardai became aware that Mr Gilmartin was to come into possession of firearms on December 14.
Three detective units and members of the armed support unit went to Cobh on December 14 to try to detect Mr Gilmartin. At 7.30pm Mr Gilmartin was seen in the vicinity of a petrol station in Newtown in Cobh carrying a black Umbro backpack with an FAI logo on it.
Two other men, including the co-accused Joseph Walsh, arrived in a gold-coloured Toyota Avensis and engaged in conversation with Mr Gilmartin. They then drove to Mr Gilmartin’s nearby home. Mr Gilmartin had moved to the address three weeks earlier.
Gardai saw Mr Walsh enter the house carrying the black Umbro bag. At 7.53pm the armed support unit entered the premises. The two accused were in a child’s bedroom and Mr Gilmartin was now holding the bag. The bag contained a dismantled 12-gauge, sawn-off shotgun in fair condition and a smaller bag with a Walther pistol and magazine in good condition. They found 22 rounds of ammunition in total and a holster for the pistol which contained DNA matching Mr Gilmartin.
Both men were arrested and detained. During interviews Mr Walsh initially took a “no comment attitude” but when gardai asked if he thought the bag contained something illegal he replied: “I had a fair idea.”
Mr Walsh has a previous conviction for assault causing harm in 2013 and was given a two-year suspended sentence in 2010 for striking a 21-year-old man, knocking him unconscious. In 2009 he was convicted under the Public Order Act for fighting in the street and in 2008 he was convicted of an assault at Cork Circuit Court.
He was unemployed at the time of this offence and had previously worked as a bar manager and as a doorman for a security company.
Mr Gilmartin also initially took a “no comment attitude” but in the fourth interview he told gardai that he feared for his life.
Det Sgt Murphy said Mr Gilmartin had a legitimate interest in firearms, having been a member of a gun club for some years. His only previous convictions were under the Road Traffic Act. Originally from Cobh, Mr Gilmartin had worked as a civilian operator for the Department of Defence but is currently suspended.
Mr Kennedy said that the Director of Public Prosecutions takes the view that the offences fall in the middle range in terms of their seriousness.
Mr Walsh’s defence asked the three-court judge to take into account that he pleaded guilty and admitted during interviews with gardai that he had a fair idea something illegal was in the bag.
A “glowing reference” written by one of Mr Walsh’s former employers was also handed to the Court.
Blaise O’Carroll SC, for Mr Gilmartin, said his client’s sister had written to the court saying that the family had lost two members, leaving a huge void in their lives. She described Mr Gilmartin as a family man and a “tower of support” who worked hard all his life.
Mr Gilmartin’s partner of four years Emma Devlin said that he had “supported us in so many ways” and that since his arrest she has lost her home and become “officially homeless”.
Mr O’Carroll said his client suffers from gout, insomnia and an anxiety disorder. He comes from a “very good family” and is of “outstanding good character” with no previous criminal convictions against him.
He said he had been “put upon” because he had knowledge of firearms. He was put into a difficult position, Mr O’Carroll said, and provided logistical support but was not a “prime mover”.
Justice Tony Hunt, sitting with Judge Patricia Ryan and Judge Ann Ryan, said they have a “fair bit to think about” and adjourned sentencing until February 5.
With many thanks to: Irish Republican Prisoner News