Interim report on review of Offences Against State Act due ‘in near future’ – Humphreys

Sinn Féin does not oppose renewal of legislation pending final outcome of review

 

The Seanad has backed the continuing existence of the non-jury Special Criminal Court for another year as well as provisions to tackle organised crime, pending the outcome of the first full review of emergency legislation in almost 20 years.

The 1998 Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act which is aimed at tackling terrorism, and the 2009 Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act which deals with gangland crime both must be reviewed annually by the Dáil and Seanad because of the nature of their provisions.

Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys told the Seanad on Monday that the expert review group chaired by former Court of Appeal Judge Michael Peart to review of the Offences Against the State Acts will produce an interim report “in the near future”.

Vote

Fine Gael Senator Barry Ward unexpectedly called a vote on the renewal of the operation of the Special Criminal Court but because there were no tellers for the “Níl” side the motion was declared carried without a vote.

Last year for the first time since the party entered the Dáil Sinn Féin moved from opposing the renewal of the legislation to abstaining in a vote on the issue after the Government agreed to a full independent review of the legislation.

Sinn Féin Senator Niall O Donnghaile said his party would not oppose the motions because they have “an eye to the findings of the review panel later this year”.

But “I don’t see how laws crafted in the 1940s can be fit for purpose today”, adding that “we should all be seeking 21st century laws to tackle 21st century criminality”.

Ms Humphreys called for the non-jury Court to be renewed for the next year because there remained a “real and persistent threat” from dissident republican paramilitary groups “who have set their faces against peace”.

“We know these groups are vehemently opposed to peace and seek to attack the institutions of Northern Ireland. Their callous targeting of PSNI officers underlines the morally vacant path which these dissident groups seek to follow,” she said.

Ms Humphreys added that Ireland is not immune from the threat of international terrorism and “many provisions of the Offences Against the State Acts form part of the response to that threat”.

Legislation

A report on the use of the legislation over the past 12 months “notes the clear view of the Garda Commissioner that the Act continues to be an important tool in ongoing efforts in the fight against terrorism”.

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen said Sinn Féin’s opposition had “morphed from resentment over the fact that the Court is so successful in convicting many fellow members of their movement into a faux concern for human rights and philosophical concerns of trial by jury”.

He also criticised the “absolutist position” of some in Fine Gael who viewed the Special Criminal Court “as if the court was a thin blue line standing between ourselves and Babylonian chaos and disorder

Mr Mullen said “we shouldn’t pretend that the Special Criminal Court is somehow an ideal forum which produces the right result every time and which is free from external influence or interferences”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher welcomed the review and said “it’s important that we shine a very strong light on the laws of the land”.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik who said the last full review of the legislation was in 2002. She did not oppose the renewal but criticised the framework of the legislation.

She warned that the legislation “has now become so entrenched in the criminal justice system” that it has developed into de facto permanence.

Ms Bacik who said she had worked as a barrister in the Special Criminal Court pointed out that a number of sections in the legislation had not been used in a number of years and such provisions should be repealed.

Green Party Senator Vincent P Martin said he was most reluctant to support the legislation and they should be wary of “rubber stamping” such provisions.

The Dáil will debate the motions on Wednesday.