Dáil votes to renew anti-terrorism legislation introduced after Omagh

Fitzgerald says 68 murders linked to organised crime since 2009

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald: “We are also faced with growing and inextricable links between paramilitary groups and organised crime.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald: “We are also faced with growing and inextricable links between paramilitary groups and organised crime.” Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 01:08

Thirty terrorist-related attacks occurred in Northern Ireland last year and five this year to date, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil during the annual debate on the renewal of anti-terrorism legislation.

Ms Fitzgerald also said that since 2009, there had been 68 murders linked to organised crime. “We are also faced with growing and inextricable links between paramilitary groups and organised crime,” she said.

The Dáil voted by 81 to 23 to support the renewal of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act, first introduced in the wake of the Real IRA bombing in Omagh in 1998 in which 29 people died. It allows for the drawing of inferences in certain circumstances in prosecutions and created offences such as directing an unlawful organisation. It also extends the maximum detention time to 72 hours.

The House also supported by 82 to 23 votes the renewal of section 8 of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act which allows certain organised crime offences to be prosecuted without a jury in the Special Criminal Court. Sinn Féin and several Independent TDs opposed the renewal of legislation, which was also backed by the Seanad.

Ms Fitzgerald said that while the threat level in this jurisdiction may be different from Northern Ireland, “it is imperative our laws and police are properly equipped to deal with the threat”.

She highlighted cases such as the discovery of an estimated €10 million in partially forged banknotes this year, an improvised explosive device in Co Louth and “the disruption of a Real IRA gun attack in Tallaght earlier this month”.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins, supporting the legislation, said one of the State’s first duties was to ensure the safety of its citizens. The legislation allowed the State to battle those “who seek to destroy our communities through organised crime or destroy the State through acts of terrorism”.

However Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said the legislation “undermines human rights, civil liberties and democratic life in this State”. The UN Human Rights Committee shared the party’s view and he added that the continued use of these draconian provisions was untenable and an admission of failure of this and previous governments.

The Donegal TD said of dissident activists that the challenge was to “engage with them and demonstrate the benefits of the peace process”.