Undercover police called as witnesses in bid to halt dissident case

Nearly 30 undercover police officers are to be called as witnesses in a legal bid to halt the prosecution of two alleged dissident republican paramilitaries targeted in a surveillance operation.

Defence lawyers confirmed they want to cross-examine them at a hearing to decide if Carl Reilly, 40, and Paul Crawford are to stand trial.

The two men face charges connected to covert recordings carried out by gardai at a hotel near Dundalk, Co Louth last year.

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Reilly, chairman of the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) and with an address at Pollard Close in Belfast, is in custody accused of directing terrorism and belonging to a proscribed organisation, Oglaigh na hEireann.

Crawford, from Carrickree Mews in Warrenpoint, Co Down, is currently on bail charged with membership of the same outlawed grouping.

The two men’s legal representatives are set to challenge the strength of the evidence against them at a preliminary inquiry later this year.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court was told that the hearing could take four days.

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Defence solicitor Peter Corrigan also revealed he has drawn up a list of 27 witnesses as part of efforts to establish no prima facie case exists against his clients.

Asked by the judge if most of those to be called were police, he replied: “Yes, undercover surveillance officers.”

The alleged offences were committed over a period between January 2014 and October 2015.

At previous court hearings it was claimed Reilly was recorded discussing murder attempts and bombings at the meeting in the Carrickdale Hotel.

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Prosecutors contended that Reilly was secretly recorded as he talked about “losing men in Belfast” to Maghaberry Prison.

Based on extracts from the transcripts it was claimed that he was exerting a position of authority within both the RNU and Oglaigh na hEireann.

Defence lawyers have attacked the strength of the case, arguing that it is based on police supposition and opinion, inconsistent Garda statements and poor quality CCTV images.

A date for the preliminary inquiry is expected to be fixed next month.

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