The maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder, which has been set at 10 years since 1860, must be increased in light of recent gangland crime, according to Fianna Fáil.
Conspiracy is an inchoate offence – an incomplete attempt to commit a crime – which was introduced to Ireland by the London authorities in the Offences against the Person Act 1861.
It is used when two or more people form a plan to murder another but are stopped before they can carrying it out. Unlike murder and attempted murder which carry maximum sentences of life imprisonment, the punishment for conspiracy to murder is capped at 10 years.
The maximum sentence for conspiracy to murder is much higher in most other countries. In 1977 the UK amended its own 1860 law, raising the maximum penalty to life imprisonment.
Until recently, conspiracy was rarely charged in Ireland, mainly due to the difficulty of foiling murder plots before they occur.
Possibly its most famous application was in the case of Sharon Collins, the Clare woman who was convicted of plotting to murder her partner and his two sons in what became known as the "Lying Eyes" trial. Collins and the man she hired to complete the murder both received six year sentences in 2008.
In recent years it has become more commonly used as a tool against gangland criminals involved in the Hutch-Kinahan feud. Since 2016, Garda surveillance, conducted under Operation Hybrid, has led to several murder attempts being foiled before they could be completed.
Last year, Luke Wilson was jailed for six years for conspiring to murder a gangland rival on behalf of the Kinahan gang. He received a concurrent 11 year term for the possession of the handgun which was to be used in the killing.
Also last year, Imre Arakas, an Estonian hitman hired by the Kinahans, was jailed for planning to murder James "Mago" Gately.
At the time, gardaí who captured Arakas following a complex operation involving the National Organised Crime Bureau and the National Surveillance Unit, were frustrated that the maximum sentence available was 10 years.
A guilty plea by Arakas meant this was reduced to six years by the Special Criminal Court. With remission, he will likely serve just over four years.
Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said the fact that gardaí managed to stop Arakas from killing should not count in his favour.
Mr O’Callaghan has introduced a private members bill to increase the maximum sentence from 10 years to life imprisonment. This would give judges much more leeway to impose severe sentences for the offence, he said.
“A man was stopped on his way to execute another person and he was stopped from doing it thanks to the good work of An Garda Síochána,” he said.
“Had he attempted to kill the person, he would have been subject to a much higher sentence but the fact that the gardaí intercepted him on the way there shouldn’t make this a lesser offence.
“A serious criminal on his way to commit murder shouldn’t benefit from the fact that gardaí are doing their job very effectively.”