Kenny calls on Adams to make statement on AK47s
Frances Fitzgerald confirms second Special Criminal Court will open on April 4th
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. Photograph: Collins
Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed the second Special Criminal Court will open on April 4th and condemned the shooting in the Regency Hotel in Drumcondra, Dublin as “vile, audacious and highly sinister”.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny called on Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams to make a statement on media reports that AK47 weapons used in the attack “may well be very similar if not of the same cargo that came in from abroad with the Provisional IRA a number of years ago”.
Speaking at a Fine Gael event in party election headquarters on Monday morning, Ms Fitzgerald said gardaí had no intelligence to suggest they should have been present at the hotel where the fatal attack occurred.
‘All action necessary’
“I have one message that’s very clear today to the people who were involved, and to their partners in crime. This State will take all action necessary to bring you to justice and to make absolutely sure that you are not beyond the rule of law,” she said.
“I want to confirm the second Special Criminal Court will be open on April 4th . . . the judges have been appointed and it will begin its work on April 4th during the new law term.”
The Government had previously decided to establish a second non-jury Special Criminal Court to try terrorist and crime-gang offences.
David Byrne (34), from Crumlin, was shot dead and two others were injured last Friday when a gang of armed men opened fire at a boxing weigh-in at the Regency Hotel on the Swords Road in north Dublin.
The Continuity IRA claimed on Monday it was responsible for the shooting, while gardaí have said they believe the shooting was the result of a drugs feud.
Speaking on Monday afternoon about the fatal gun attack, Mr Adams said that “what happened at the Regency Hotel last week was an outrage and horrendous. “It was a brazen attack in broad daylight by criminal thugs who believe they can operate with impunity and above the normal rule of law. They should be locked up, where they belong.
“Organised crime can be tackled. Sinn Féin’s priority in tackling crime will be to provide the gardaí with proper resources and we will recruit 3,000 gardaí – more than reversing the 2,500 cut by this Government – and to reopen the 140 Garda stations they have closed. Our overriding aim is to ensure criminal thugs have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. They need to be brought to justice, be subject to the full rigour of the law and put behind bars where they belong. That is our priority.
“I understand a group calling itself the Continuity IRA has claimed responsibility for the attack at the Regency Hotel. They are not the IRA. The IRA are gone and their weapons are gone. Enda Kenny knows that.
“Incidentally, the same group has me and other Sinn Féin reps under active death threat. This was confirmed to me by the PSNI in recent months.”
Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said the shooting was appalling. “The IRA is gone. The arms have been put beyond use many years ago and that was overseen by General John de Chastelain (the Canadian general who headed the international decommissioning body).”
He also denied that continuing controversies surrounding Sinn Féin’s past and some of its supporters, had created a credibility issue for the party that would prevent it taking up the Justice portfolio any time into the foreseeable future. “The credibility issue is for the so-called party of law and order, Fine Gael They depleted the Garda force by 3,000. We want to reverse the decision.”
Ms Fitzgerald said she had been fully briefed on the shootings by the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.
Asked why gardaí were not present when crime journalists had been there, Ms Fitzgerald said this was an operational decision by the gardaí. “They had no intelligence which they believed would have warranted their presence there.”
Ms Fitzgerald said it was not her place to second-guess an operational decision that gardaí took. She said the event was “unprecedented”, and that those responsible were “evil men who went into that hotel in broad daylight with AK47s”.
Ms Fitzgerald said Fine Gael wanted to recruit 600 more gardaí a year until the force was above 14,000.
She said a further 300 civilians would be recruited to support gardaí in areas such as forensics, crime analysis and forensic accounting.
Earlier, speaking on Today with Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio, Ms Fitzgerald said “gardaí are following a whole range of lines of inquiry. They’re investigating every aspect of this. Every resource that is needed is being made available in terms of the emergency response unit being out patrolling the streets as we have seen.
“They’re liaising internationally. No effort will be spared. They have the full support of the Government, whatever resources are needed, to track down these individuals and these gangs.”
Ms Fitzgerald added that gangland murders had dropped in recent years. “There were 22 in 2009, there were 17 in 2010. We have seen a 47 per cent decrease in overall murders between 2014 and 2015.”
Also speaking on the programme, Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig MacLochlainn criticised the Government for cutbacks to Garda services that had “diminished our police service”.
Commenting on Mr Adams’s statement that the Special Criminal Court does not work, Mr MacLochlainn said the court “flouts the rule of law”.
He said there were other options available to the Government including “anonymous juries, juries that are screen, juries located in a different building that are watching the proceedings by video”.
“[There have been] many of these murders over the years and clearly the use of draconian legislation has not prevented that. We need to have a measured conversation that the international human rights and civil liberties organisations and all of those in Ireland have a view on this.”
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny said “gangland does exist”.
He was referring to Mr Adams’s comment at the weekend that the use of the term “gangland” killings was “lazy” because such a phenomenon did not exist.
“When I see the president of Sinn Féin calling for the abolition of the Special Criminal Court, understand this now, we have set out the administrative functions of setting up the second special criminal court on April 4th,” Mr Kenny said.
“I don’t want to see a situation where we now have dissident groups, or paramilitary groups or gangland groups, and gangland does exist, being able to carry out this appalling set of actions.
“I’m interested to hear the media comment that the AK47s may well be very similar, if not of the same cargo, that came in from abroad with the Provisional IRA a number of years ago.”
Mr Kenny said it would be interesting to hear Mr Adams comment on that issue.
“Because if that’s a fact then it’s absolutely hypocritical to go talking about the abolition of the Special Criminal Court, when we know from judges in the past of the gross intimidation of juries and witnesses.”
On Monday, Tánaiste Joan Burton described Mr Adams as the spokesman for the IRA and the republican movement.
She said Mr Adams needed a reality check and claimed the fight against crime would be disabled if the Special Criminal Court was ended.
“That is either folly or arrogance at an extreme level,” the Labour Party leader said on Monday. “I note that both the leader of Sinn Féin and his deputy leader spoke about this earlier in the week before the atrocity at the Regency Hotel occurred.”
The Tánaiste said the Garda would be disabled in its fight against gangland crime if the SCC was scrapped. “He is incredibly out of touch.”
Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Niall Collins “people are still reeling from the barbaric and callous assassination that took place last Friday. Today’s claims from dissident republicans that they were responsible shows there is in fact very little difference if any between dissident IRA activity and gangland criminals. This admission illustrates the need for the Special Criminal Court to be used in tackling these crimes. There needs to be a clear signal given that this type of activity is not and will never be tolerated.
“I believe the public should be extremely suspicious of the motives of other political parties who want to strip our justice system of one of the most effective tools used against terrorists. Far from dismantling the Special Criminal Court we need to expand its remit to include gangland and organised crime.”