The five-year jail terms handed out to two republican terrorists who tried to bomb a police recruitment event show have been branded “pathetic” and “pitifully inadequate” by an Ulster Unionist MLA.
Brian Walsh and Darren Poleon, both from Co Meath, were sentenced on Thursday after the pair admitted planting a remote-controlled bomb at the Waterfoot Hotel in Londonderry in October 2015.
On Friday, the Public Prosecution Service said it is considering if there is a basis to refer the sentences to the Court of Appeal “on the grounds that they may be unduly lenient”.
Doug Beattie said the outcome of the case was an “insult” to victims of terrorism and demonstrated that the Northern Ireland legal system is “out of touch it with both reality and public opinion”.
The former solider added: “Either we as a society take terrorist violence seriously or we don’t. If we are taking it seriously then we need to see robust policing operations against terrorists and meaningful sentences against these individuals once they are caught.”
Mr Beattie commended the role of police in the case, but felt they had “once again been let down” by the courts.
“All too often our courts hand out weak sentences that suggest a toleration of a certain level of violence as inevitable and even normal,” he added.
The UUP justice spokesperson highlighted the case of former Royal Marine Ciaran Maxwell, who was jailed for 18 years at the Old Bailey in London for supplying bombs to dissident republicans.
Mr Beattie said: “How he must wish he had been sentenced in a Northern Ireland court.”
TUV leader and barrister Jim Allister branded the sentences “ridiculously lenient”, adding that the ruling “sends a message that Northern Ireland is a soft touch when it comes to terrorism”.
He added: “These sort of sentences wouldn’t be seen elsewhere in the UK.
“Consider the case of six Muslim extremists who were jailed for between 18 and 20 years for planning to bomb an English Defence League rally in 2012.
“How is it that terrorists in Northern Ireland can get away with a fraction of that sentence?”
In June this year, Poleon, 43 and from Lightown in Drumbaragh, Kells, and 35-year old Walsh from Drumree in Dunshaughlin, both admitted possessing an explosive substance with intent to endanger life or cause serious injury to property, and possessing articles for use in terrorism. They had previously pleaded not guilty in November 2016.
Judge Geoffrey Miller told Belfast Crown Court he was giving the pair time off their sentence because they had pleaded guilty – though they had initially denied their crimes, and only changed their pleas seven months after telling the court they were not guilty.
The pair had packed a fire extinguisher with 2.2lb of explosives, which they then hid in shrubbery in the hotel car park.