Three Brazilians, two of whom lived in Ballymahon, were "not professional hitmen" when they were caught with a machine gun and a shotgun in Co Offaly, a judge said when he sentenced them this afternoon (Monday, January 20).
Judge Keenan Johnson said that though the machine gun was of poor quality and cartridges found in the men's car were not suitable for the shotgun, the discharge of a firearm, even as a threat, had the capacity to go fatally wrong.
Ildomar Cabrar Da Silva, aged 29, and whose address could not be ascertained by the Gardai, had pleaded guilty to possession of the firearms, along with 17 rounds of ammunition for the submachine gun, and four shotgun cartridges, at River Street, Clara, on May 27 last.
Jefferson Dos Santos, 35, with an address at Apartment 4, Inny Court, Ballymahon, Co Longford, and Hugo Henrique Rodrigues, 23, of the same address, had pleaded guilty to similar charges. All three also admitted breaches of the Covid-19 restrictions on travel.
Mr Da Silva, the only one of the three men to have previous convictions, was sentenced to eight years in prison, with the final three years suspended.
Mr Dos Santos was sentenced to seven years and Mr Rodrigues to six years, with the final three years suspended in each case.
A previous court hearing had been told the men were on their way to Tullamore to shoot at a particular house and when he was finalising the sentence, Judge Johnson said the discovery of a Google maps search for an address on Mr Da Silva's phone was an aggravating factor in sentencing.
He said Mr Da Silva was the most culpable of the three and because he had paid for the fuel for the car he was the "primary organiser of the mission".
He had come to Ireland five years ago to learn English and worked in a meat factory and as a hospital porter, accumulating convictions for road traffic offences, theft and possession of knives.
Mr Da Silva had been on a holiday visa but had been the subject of a deportation order since July 2019.
Judge Johnson said Mr Dos Santos, the back seat passenger in the car, had come to the State in December 2019 to learn English and had a flight booked home to Brazil the day after his arrest.
He had written a letter of apology and the court also had a letter from his wife which referred to their two children and the defendant's elderly father in Brazil.
Mr Rodrigues was the driver of the car and Judge Johnson said he was a participant in the undertaking, not the organiser, but he did know about it at least a week in advance.
He had made admissions which helped the Gardai significantly and as a result he was under protection in prison.
Judge Johnson said he was satisfied as the youngest of the three his lack of maturity meant he was easily led into offending and it was out of character for him.
The men were all wearing plastic gloves when they were stopped in Clara at 12.25am on May 27 and after the arrests Mr Rodrigues told the Gardai they intended to threaten a third party by "firing at their house" but denied they were on a "murder mission".
Detective Sergeant Caroline Lyng, who was praised for her work by the judge, had given evidence the car had passed through the toll plaza on the M4 from Dublin at Kilcock at 9.10pm on May 26 and was then seen refuelling at the Applegreen in Enfield.
Analysis by a ballistics specialist showed that the sub machinegun was rusty and would jam after each shot.
Judge Johnson said the men were out of their depth because had got lost twice while on their way to their target.
"It therefore seems clear that none of the accused were professional hitmen or seasoned criminals," he said.
Nevertheless he had to be mindful of the proliferation of gun crime and its serious impact on society and the judge said this type of enterprise was "regrettably becoming far too prevalent" and had the capacity "to undermine the foundations of our civilised society".
He said the maximum sentence available was 14 years and the minimum was five and he was satisfied the offending was "at the mid to upper range" and would attract sentences of nine years before mitigation.
All three accused have been in custody since their arrest on the night of the offences and their sentences were backdated to May 26 last.
The men also entered into 10-year peace bonds and were ordered to return to Brazil within 14 days of their release.