High Court reporters
Three men who were jailed for trying to acquire weapons for the Real IRA are seeking damages for the period of their incarceration that was deemed by the Irish courts to have been unlawful.
The actions have been brought by Fintan O’Farrell, Declan Rafferty and Michael McDonald, who are all from Co Louth.
The State defendants reject the men’s claims and say their rights were not breached and that they are not entitled to any award of damages.
The three, following an attempt to source arms and the financial support of the Iraqi government, were arrested by Slovak police in July 2001 after they had met with people who the men believed were Iraqi arms dealers.
The ‘dealers’ were in fact undercover British security agents. Following their arrest, the three were extradited to England.
At a London court in 2002, they all pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cause explosions, as well as charges under the UK’s 2000 Terrorism Act, and ultimately received prison sentences of 28 years.
In 2006, they were transferred to Ireland, where they were detained at Portlaoise Prison.
In 2014, the High Court found the continued detention of O’Farrell and Rafferty, with addresses in Carlingford, and McDonal, from Dundalk, was unlawful.
This was because of differences between the UK and Ireland’s sentencing systems, including that prisoners in Ireland are entitled to one quarter remission of their sentences, whereas in the UK one third remission normally applies. Because of this, the court directed that they be released from custody.
Arising out of an earlier case brought by Sligo man Vincent Sweeney, the court held that the warrants allowing their transfer from a UK prison to Ireland were defective in referring to the men’s 28-year sentences and not the term they should have served, which was 18 years and 8 months.
The warrants should have referred to a definite term of two thirds of the sentences they received in the UK, the Irish courts further held.
In an action that opened before Mr Justice Cian Ferriter on Tuesday, the men are each seeking an award of damages for the time, between 2006-2014, that they spent in prison which the Irish courts deemed to be unlawful.
The period, which they claim was false imprisonment, amounted to breach of their constitutional right to liberty, they argued.
Represented by Micheal Ó Higgins SC, the men’s claims are against the Minister for Justice, Ireland and the Attorney General and the Governor of Portlaoise Prison.
They claim the defendants were negligent on grounds including that they allowed the men to be imprisoned on foot of an order that was invalid and failed to observe their rights to liberty.
The men claim they spent eight years in Portlaoise Prison, which was described as an old facility with poor heating and where they had to ‘slop out’ their cells every morning.
They sought the transfers for family reasons, the courts heard.
The defendants oppose the claims and deny the men’s allegations and further argue that the men are not entitled to damages.
The defendants claim the men were lawfully sentenced in the UK and had they remained in that jurisdiction, they would not have been released until April 2020.
The defendants claim they were required by law to act in accordance with the warrants and no cause of action for damages can flow from their actions.
It is also alleged that the claims are an abuse of process and should be dismissed.
The hearing continues.