SHOCKWAVES have spread through a small Scottish town dubbed ‘Little Ireland’ after a man from the area was arrested in connection with the largest Semtex seizure in the North of Ireland for a decade.
Thomas Hughes was charged last week in Belfast with possession of 2.5kg of the “highly volatile” plastic explosive with intent to endanger life.
Scottish newspaper the Daily Record revealed on Tuesday that the 47-year-old, of Maeve House in the New Lodge area of Belfast, is originally from Coatbridge, a town 10 miles from Glasgow.
Several community sources said they were “shocked” by the news despite Coatbridge’s links to republicanism.
The town is home to both the Scottish branch of Cairde na hÉireann and the Coatbridge Republican Flute Band. Both groups back Sinn Fein and the peace process, which is opposed to dissident republican terrorism.
Kevin O’Hanlon, a committee member for Coatbridge’s annual St Patrick’s Day festival, said the majority of the town’s large Irish community do not hold strong republican views.
“The people here would be very surprised by this arrest and that a Coatbridge man has allegedly been found in possession of explosives,” he added.
“The people I know here are 100 per cent behind the peace process and are glad to see an end to the violence that people have had to live with for such a long time.”
Fr Eamonn Sweeney of St Patrick’s Church said: “Republicanism would be at conflict with the views of most of the Irish community here. I would say this arrest comes as a surprise to a lot of people.”
Fears were sparked last week following the discovery in Belfast of a huge haul of Semtex, enough to make 20 car bombs.
The plastic explosive was used in a number of deadly attacks in Britain during the Provisional IRA’s bombing campaign, including the 1983 Harrods attack that killed six.
Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard on Wednesday, April 30, how Semtex had been found in an airing cupboard Mr Hughes’ flat.
During a failed bail application, a detective said the discovery marked the biggest Semtex seizure in the North for 10 years.
He added that it “undoubtedly would have been used in the manufacture of numerous explosive devices” and had already been cut in two “most likely for purposes of distribution to other terrorist cells”.
Semtex is an asset in the view of dissident republicans and would only have been left in the hands of a “trusted individual”, the officer said.
During the hearing, defence solicitor Michael Madden said that while Mr Hughes came from a republican background, he was a strong supporter of the peace process who vehemently opposed dissident activity.
Mr Madden claimed his client was “shocked and horrified” when the Semtex was shown to him and said his drink problem made him an “easy target”.
Mr Hughes had been living at his partner’s address and others had access to the flat where the semtex was found, he added.
District Judge Harry McKibbin refused the Scottish man’s bail application on the grounds of the risk of re-offending.
A PSNI officer had earlier told the court that the force was objecting to the bail application on the grounds Mr Hughes may use the support network for dissident republicans to flee the jurisdiction and alert any co-conspirators to evidence held by police.
Judge McKibbin remanded Mr Hughes in custody to appear again on May 30, saying it would be “foolhardy” to release him on bail.