Fast-tracking Bill is abuse of power, says Opposition


OPPOSITION TDS have sharply criticised as an “abuse of power” the “frenzied manner” in which controversial new criminal justice legislation is being fast-tracked through the Oireachtas.

Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan, whose party supports the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill to deal with organised crime gangs, said, however, that it was “madness” to guillotine or impose a deadline on legislation that required serious scrutiny.

“The Bill is being presented as an emergency measure, which is the alleged reason for the frenzied manner in which it is being forced through.” Deputies were not being given an opportunity to do their constitutional responsibility and scrutinise the legislation. “What is happening represents an abuse of power on the part of the Government.”

He said Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern “prefers to get rid of jury trials than explore what other options are available. He prefers to ram through harsh measures without time for debate. He prefers to give gardaí greater powers rather than greater resources.”

He said the Criminal Justice Acts of 2006 and 2007 had been hailed as “the solution to the gangland problem”, but “they are manifestly not working”. Mr Ahern “now believes the solution to this failure is to rush this further legislation through the House”.

Labour justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte said deputies were being asked to declare “that the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order” in gangland offences. Does any member of this House honestly believe that statement to be true? Do we believe that the Garda Síochána really believe it to be true? Do we believe that the judiciary believes it to be true? Does the DPP – who already has the power, should the circumstances warrant it, to refer such cases to the Special Criminal Court, and only rarely does so – believe that the ordinary courts are inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice and the preservation of public peace and order?”

Sean Sherlock (Labour, Cork East) said “the idea that we apply more legislation without a comprehensive spend on overtime, surveillance and other enabling mechanisms that would allow gardaí to get on with the job raises serious questions about this Government’s strategy to tackle gangland crime”.

Bernard Durkan (FG, Kildare North) was not sure the Bill went far enough, because criminal gangs were “too powerful, virtually an army now with widescale influence”. “This Bill should have been before the House at least 10 years ago because the activities of criminal gangs are virtually unchallenged. These gangs have intimidated witnesses, jurors and society and have frustrated gardaí and the courts.”

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Aengus Ó Snodaigh claimed that the legislation was “a publicity stunt which will not affect the drugs trade or the criminal gangs one iota”. It was “more difficult to get people to sit on juries, but not just because of intimidation. In smaller areas, such as Limerick, people know each other better than they would in Dublin, where they are more anonymous. It would, therefore, be easier to find a jury elsewhere.”