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Sentence overturned for man carrying flag

IRSP member Sean Carlin with Solicitor Michael Brentnall IRSP member Sean Carlin with Solicitor Michael Brentnall
By Michael Jackson

AN IRSP activist who was convicted for carrying a flag during a Falls Road Easter commemoration has had his sentence overturned.

In December last year, West Belfast man Sean Carlin was given a four-month suspended sentence for carrying a historical replica of an INLA Belfast Battalion flag during the commemoration in 2017.

The parade had been themed to honour local members who had lost their lives during attacks on the organisation following a 1987 split. However, in what is believed to be the first case of its kind, Sean was subsequently arrested and convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000 for carrying the flag in circumstances that state authorities deemed to arouse suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.

This week, Sean revealed that his suspended sentence had been quashed with a £100 fine issued in its stead following a court appeal against the earlier ruling.

Speaking to the Andersonstown News, Sean said: “From the start of this I was of the opinion that no matter what the outcome of the case was that I was going to be fighting it. If I was convicted, and eventually was convicted, then the benchmark was set and would have big repercussions for republicans right across the board. The point we made was that this was a commemorative event. It was advertised as a commemorative event so we were trying to unravel the agenda of the PPS and the cops.

“We’ve been of the opinion that, this is all because we didn’t buy into the Fresh Start Agreement,” he added.

“The IRSP has been getting hounded since then. This flag issue was just another significant push in relation to criminalising the IRSP. On a personal level, I couldn’t accept carrying a flag to commemorate your dead being a criminal offence – it’s unheard of.”

Sean’s solicitor, Michael Brentnall, said that while the case has “set the benchmark” in terms of sentencing, the legislation surrounding the conviction stands to be challenged.

“I think it’s significant, particularly the judges remarks at the end, who stated that no person in Ireland should go to jail for carrying a flag in Ireland. That’s significant in itself and it has set the benchmark for how these matters be dealt with. We’re now seeking senior council’s opinion on whether there is a point of law that can be taken to the court of appeal on the basis of the conviction alone rather than just the sentence.”

He continued: “Each case is facts specific, but in Sean’s case it was said during proceedings that every case of somebody carrying a similar flag to a commemoration could be criminalised. Sean was the only person this had been enforced against – there’s an issue with that in itself, but then Sean’s barrister made the point that this was a clear breach of freedom of expression and the sanction was entirely excessive in relation to the context of what had happened.”

He added: “Another point that we still have to explore is that the legislation is very vague. The legislation says that you can be a supporter or a member of a proscribed organisation. If this is a means of circumventing membership charges and having somebody landed with a charge then that’s a different fight.”

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