By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — A 31-year-old man from County Wexford was been charged with membership in an illegal organization, Oglaigh na hEireann — the name used by the so-called Real IRA in its statements — at the Special Criminal Court Monday.
Gardai have also discovered a quantity of guns and explosives in Wexford, but no one has been charged in connection with the find. The arms cache was concealed in a plastic bag in a field near Castlebridge, about five miles from Wexford town. The find included about 2 pounds of Semtex explosive, three handguns, what is described as a large home-made gun, and a quantity of ammunition.
Conor McGrath, from Killelan, Castlebridge, was remanded on £6,000 bail until Oct. 27 after being charged with illegal membership. Gardai would not reveal whether McGrath is believed to be connected with the arms find.
The three-judge, no-jury court heard McGrath had been arrested last Friday as part of a Garda investigation.
Six suspected republican dissidents were detained and held for the maximum 72 hours under Section 30 of the Offenses Against the State Act.
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No charges were preferred against the other four men and one woman, aged between 25 and 50, who were detained during early-morning raids on homes in counties Wexford and Wicklow by armed members of the gardai’s emergency response unit.
They were held at five stations. Gardai said items taken from their homes are being forensically examined. Using the force’s helicopter, gardai carried out extensive searches for a suspected bomb factory in the southeast over the weekend.
The arrests were made as RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan issued another warning that dissident republican groups posed a growing threat of violence and were attracting new recruits.
He also threatened to resign if he is ordered to cut the size of his force, as a result of a recently completed review of policing by a commission led by former Hong Kong Gov. Chris Patten, before the threat from dissident groups was reduced.
However, he told the BBC that it is inconceivable that his advice in this area would be ignored.
"These dissident republicans, particularly, pose a very persistent and growing threat," Flanagan said. "They are growing in numbers, they are growing in their capability."
Flanagan said the republican splinter groups had the firm intention of engaging in violence but had been deterred by the security forces.
There is no evidence that the IRA is involved in the threat of renewed violence, Flanagan said.
"All of those mainstream terrorist organizations have indeed brought about a very significantly reduced incidence of terrorism," he said.
Patten’s report suggested, among other recommendations, that the RUC’s full-time strength be reduced from 13,000 to 7,500 members.