Sinn Féin has abstained on a vote to extend legislation allowing the operation of the non-jury Special Criminal Court for the first time since the party changed its stance on the issue.
While the party had abstained on the vote in 2020 and 2021, it dropped its long-standing policy of outright opposition to the court following a motion passed by its ardfheis last year. The motion was seen as a landmark softening of the party’s stance on an issue which had traditionally been linked to the Troubles and the prosecution of those accused of paramilitary-linked crime, which could broaden its appeal to voters.
The court, which handles terrorism and organised crime cases, was previously used during the Troubles to prosecute members of the Provisional IRA and more recently has been used for cases involving dissident republicans — as well as trying gangland cases.
Civil rights groups, including the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, have criticised the non-jury court.
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Martin Kenny told the Dáil, which voted on the extension on Wednesday evening, that it was “welcome” that the court has not been used as often as it has in the past and he welcomed the ongoing review of the Offences Against the State Act.
He said emergency legislation like that which supports the operation of the court should only be enacted over a short period of time but “this piece of legislation is decades old and is an emergency provision”.
“Whatever argument may have existed in the last century to have such legislation as a consequence of the conflict in the North clearly no longer applies. It is not appropriate that emergency laws to deal with organised crime would need to be renewed on an annual basis as emergency legislation”
He said reform of the act is “clearly required” and that recommendations from a previous review in 2002 and by the Law Reform Commission had not been implemented.
Solidarity-PBP deputies Mick Barry, Richard Boyd Barrett, Gino Kenny, Paul Murphy and Bríd Smith voted against the motion, alongside Independents Thomas Pringle and Michael McNamara.