A former Sinn Féin councillor has been charged with the murder of a man at a Dublin boxing event in February 2016.
Jonathan Dowdall, who was elected as a councillor for Sinn Féin in 2014 before resigning in 2015, was charged by the non-jury Special Criminal Court (SCC) with a single count of murder on Tuesday morning.
Victim David Byrne was killed while attending a “Clash of the Clans” boxing weigh-in at Dublin’s Regency Hotel on the 5th of February, 2016. Five men – including three who were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and wearing SWAT-style clothing – entered the building and began shooting. Byrne was attempting to flee when he was shot dead in the hotel lobby. Dowdall is alleged to have been part of the team that killed him.
Gardaí – Ireland’s national police force – believe the primary target of the attack was Daniel Kinahan, a man named in the Irish High Court as the leader of an international drug cartel and a senior figure in organised crime. Investigators say that associates of Gary Hutch, an Irish underworld criminal murdered in Spain in September 2015, blame Kinahan for his death and were seeking revenge.
The Regency Hotel attack sharply escalated tensions between Kinahan and Hutch-associated gangs, resulting in a series of murders; the “Kinahan-Hutch feud” claimed the lives of 18 men between 2015 and 2019. Several high-profile criminals have been convicted of crimes relating to the feud, including murder and attempted murder.
Kinahan, who works as an advisor to several high-profile professional fighters including Tyson Fury, was featured in a BBC Panorama documentary last February, in which police, media, and sports figures expressed concern about his involvement in boxing. In June 2020 Fury name-checked Kinahan in an Instagram post, crediting the Dubliner with “organising the biggest fight in British boxing history”.
Kinahan has never been convicted of a crime and denies any involvement in criminality.
Three other men have also been charged with offences relating to the 2016 Regency Hotel attack. Patrick Dowdall, Jonathan Dowdall’s father, is accused of arranging a room at the hotel for the hit team. Meanwhile, Paul Murphy and Jason Bonney are alleged to have provided other forms of logistical support.
Irish authorities have thus far failed to secure a conviction for the killing of Byrne. In 2016, Gary Hutch’s brother, Patrick was brought before the SCC and charged with murder, as well as possession of firearms. The Director of Public Prosecutions ultimately opted not proceed to with the charges and the trial collapsed in 2019, following the suicide of Detective Superintendent Colm Fox, the lead Gardai investigator into the Regency attack.
Last week, Gardai obtained a European arrest warrant for Gerard “Gerry” Hutch, Gary Hutch’s uncle and a high profile underworld figure suspected of helping plan the Regency attack. Hutch has been in hiding since its aftermath and is thought to be moving between multiple safe houses. If apprehended in Europe, Hutch may be extradited and face a non-jury trial.
The SCC has been a subject of public debate across the Republic of Ireland in recent years. Originally established in the late 1930s, the court was revived in the 1970s as a way of dealing with paramilitary groups during the Troubles. In recent years, the SCC has been used to prosecute high-level organised crime.
The Irish government maintains that the SCC is an essential component of Ireland’s legal system, which it argues cannot otherwise safely accommodate jury trials for some criminal and paramilitary figures.
Sinn Féin – which functioned as the political wing of the Provisional IRA during the Troubles – has historically opposed the SCC, a position also held by Amnesty International and the United Nations. Sinn Féin however abstained from a June 2020 Dáil vote on renewing Offences Against the State Acts, the legislation that empowers the SCC.
At the time of writing, Sinn Féin had not responded to requests for comment from VICE World News.
Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) told VICE World News that the SCC deprives people of the right to a fair trial, a cornerstone of a just and fair society.
“[The right to a fair trial] includes the right to a trial by a jury of your peers, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “These rights are protected by our own Constitution and by international human rights law.”
But such rights don't apply at the SCC in a number of key respects, the ICCL says. For example, typical rules concerning the validity of evidence don’t apply: presiding judges can be shown evidence that an accused person and their defence team do not have access to. Police opinion is also extensively used as evidence. The decision to try an individual before the SCC is final and cannot be appealed.
“Given that the original justification for the court – the conflict in Northern Ireland – ended well over twenty years ago, the retention of an emergency powers legal regime in peace time is an aberration in our legal system that is urgently in need of reform or removal,” said Herrick.
Jonathan Dowdall is due to appear in court again on the 14th of June.