‘Real and persistent threat’ remains from republican paramilitary groups
TDs renew anti-terrorism and organised crime legislation for another year
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: “The raw brutality of the attacks targeting innocent people that we have seen, including on our nearest European neighbours, is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of all open democracies to this threat.” Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Emergency anti-terrorist and organised crime legislation have been renewed for another year following a Dáil vote.
TDs voted in favour of the retention of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 by 74 votes to 35. Fine Gael was supported by Independent Ministers and rural TDs as well as by Fianna Fáil and Labour.
Sinn Féin and smaller parties and left-leaning Independent TDs opposed the retention of the Act introduced following the 1998 bombing in Omagh in which 29 people were killed.
During a debate on the legislation Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said “there remains a real and persistent threat from republican paramilitary groups on this island, the so-called dissidents”.
He added that “the raw brutality of the attacks targeting innocent people that we have seen, including on our nearest European neighbours, is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of all open democracies to this threat”.
The Dáil also accepted by 72 votes to 32 the renewal of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act, 2009, which allows for organised crime offences to be heard in the non-jury Special Criminal Court, to guard against the possibility of interference with juries by criminal gangs.
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire acknowledged that since the killing of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel in the Kinahan-Hutch feud, “gardaí believe that they have foiled 52 threats to life related to gang activity. However, there has also been considerable loss of life. Between 2016 and 2017, 22 people died in gang-related killings.”
But he said: “Sinn Féin believes new legislation is required to replace the outdated emergency Acts in place and to create a new legislative and procedural basis to deal with these particular cases.”
He said certain criminal cases were more difficult to prosecute given the nature of organised crime. But “the manner in which serious crime cases are tried is not adequate, and we need to offer greater protections to jurors and witnesses to ensure greater success in putting these criminals away.”
‘Specialisation of courts’
Mr Ó Laoghaire added: “We have always recognised that there may be – and in certain areas there must be – a requirement for specialisation of courts. We have supported the establishment of specialised family and commercial courts.
“We would consider favourably proposals regarding specialised courts, procedures and legislation for organised and serious crime, where it is shown to be needed.”