Two men and two women accused of Provisional IRA membership more than a decade ago can now be identified after a controversial media ban was lifted.
The defendants include two leading Belfast republicans – Seamus Finucane (55), a brother of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane, and Padraig Wilson (53), a one-time leader of the IRA in the Maze prison.
They are accused of IRA membership on dates between 1999 and 2000, as well as involvement in a meeting of the paramilitary group.
Facing the same charges are Agnes McCrory (72), a former advice worker at the Falls Women’s Centre in west Belfast, and Briege Wright (55), a sister of IRA ‘Disappeared’ victim Seamus Wright.
After almost three months of legal arguments, District Judge Fiona Bagnall yesterday lifted an order preventing the accused from being identified.
The ban, first revealed in The Irish News in August, was put in place to protect the identity of an alleged victim in the case.
It was believed to be the first time such reporting restrictions had been placed on a paramilitary case.
However, the alleged victim called for the reporting restrictions to be lifted and instructed lawyers to challenge the order at a hearing where the BBC’s legal representatives also argued for open justice.
A fifth defendant is still not being named for separate legal reasons.
Following Judge Bagnall’s ruling, a solicitor for Mr Finucane, Mr Wilson, Ms McCrory and Ms Wright called for the case to be reviewed.
A lawyer for the alleged victim said the decision reflected the principle of justice being seen to be done.
Judge lifts ban on naming four IRA accused
A ban on the media identifying defendants in a Provisional IRA case has been lifted. After almost three months of legal arguments surrounding the reporting restrictions, District Judge Fiona Bagnall yesterday allowed the two men and two women from west Belfast to be named.
Seamus Finucane (55), is a brother of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane and is accused of being a member of the IRA more than a decade ago.
Also accused is veteran republican Padraic Wilson (53), whose address is listed in court records as the ‘Sinn Fein advice centre, Falls Road’.
Agnes McCrory (72) and Briege Wright (55) face the same charges.
A fifth man, also alleged to have been a member of the organisation, cannot be named because of separate legal matters.
Judge Fiona Bagnall, ruled yesterday that the defendants could now be named as long as the media proceeded cautiously.
The ban was first revealed in The Irish News in August.
It was believed to be the first time reporting restrictions of this kind had been placed on a paramilitary case.
All four named accused are charged with belonged to a proscribed organisation, namely the Provisional IRA, on dates between 1999 and 2000.
They are also accused of arranging, addressing or assisting in the management of a Provisional IRA meeting.
To date none of the five defendants have attended Belfast Magistrates Court for any of the legal hearings.
The case against them has been brought by way of a prosecution summons.
According to legal sources they have not yet been charged formally.
The ban on naming them was imposed in August at the request of a lawyer for one of the defendants.
The prosecution did not oppose the reporting ban.
However, the alleged victim said she did not want the reporting restrictions and instructed her lawyers to challenge the order.
The BBC’s legal representatives also made legal submissions arguing for open justice.
Based on those submissions Judge Bagnall yesterday lifted the ban.
“I am lifting the reporting restrictions on the matters before the magistrates court,” she said.
It also emerged yesterday that the order banning the names of those charged with IRA membership was made using an incorrect section of the 1981 Contempt of Court Act.
A spokeswoman for the courts service said the original order “should have been made under section 4(2) of the contempt of court order rather than section 11”.
During the short court hearing yesterday Peter Madden – a solicitor acting on behalf of Mr Finucane, Mr Wilson, Ms McCrory and Ms Wright – said he had written to the Public Prosecution Service on Tuesday asking for the case to be reviewed.
Mr Madden said he had serious concerns.
“There are unusual aspects of this case and there are policy aspects to this case which I have asked the prosecutor to review,” he said.
“It may have to go to the director (of public prosecutions Barra McGrory).
“There is a large issue about how this prosecution was actually initiated, who initiated it and why they initiated it.”
The case was adjourned until November 8.
Michael Sinclair, of John J Rice solicitors, represents the alleged victim.
“The alleged injured party in this case sought independent legal advice to challenge these restrictions and the ruling today justifies her position,” he said.
“It is important that alleged victims are given a voice in the criminal justice system and we felt it was important to assist in this matter.”
Veteran republican Padraic Wilson (53) is a former OC (officer commanding) of the IRA in the Maze prison.
He was among a delegation that met then secretary of state Mo Mowlam when she visited the Maze in 1998 during a crucial juncture in the peace process.
Mr Wilson was released the following year after serving eight years of a 24-year sentence for possessing explosives and conspiracy to murder.
More recently he has acted as Sinn Fein’s director of international affairs.
Belfast republican Seamus Finucane (55) is a brother of solicitor Pat Finucane, whose murder in 1989 remains one of the most controversial killings of the Troubles.
The Sinn Fein member has worked recently as a community worker in the upper Springfield area of west Belfast.
In February last year he was threatened by dissident republicans.
Condemning the threat, Sinn Fein North Belfast assembly member Gerry Kelly said Mr Finucane had spent his entire life “involved in republican activism”.
Briege Wright (55) is a sister of Seamus Wright, who was abducted and murdered by the IRA in 1972 along with Kevin McKee after the two were accused of being informers.
Their remains have never been found.
Ms Wright worked as an advice worker at the time the IRA membership offences are alleged to have taken place.
Agnes McCrory (72) is a former advice worker at the Falls Women’s Centre.
She is also a lifelong republican and a well-known figure in west Belfast.