Renewal of law used to prosecute terrorism expected to be approved

Minister for Justice seeks extension of Act providing for non-jury Special Criminal Court

The renewal of the law providing for the non-jury Special Criminal Court (SCC) which handles terrorism is expected to be approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee will seek the extension of the Offences Against the State Act for another year amid an ongoing independent review of the law.

The SCC handles terrorism and organised crime cases. It was was previously used during the Troubles to prosecute members of the Provisional IRA, with a significant number jailed.

It is understood that Ms McEntee believes the law needs to be renewed due to the “real and persistent threat” from dissident republican paramilitary groups.

There is also considered to be a “substantial threat” from organised crime groups.

Any extension of the Act will require votes in the Dáil and the Seanad, and the intention is for dates to be scheduled to move resolutions in both Houses of the Oireachtas in the coming weeks.

Sinn Féin has traditionally opposed the annual renewal of the legislation that underpins the court, though it abstained in the Dáil vote for the first time in 2020 and did so again in 2021.

The party dropped its long-standing policy of outright opposition to the SCC following a motion passed by its ard fheis last year.

The motion included criticisms of the SCC in relation to civil liberties and outlined the need for the law in relation to it to be modernised but also acknowledged that non-jury courts may be needed in “exceptional circumstances”.

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald later confirmed these “exceptional circumstances” include the use of such courts to prosecute dissident republicans as well as organised criminals.

An independent review group, chaired by former Court of Appeal judge Michael Peart, is examining all aspects of the Act.

This work is ongoing and it is expected that the group will submit a final report in the autumn with any recommendations to be considered by the Government after that.

Separately, the Cabinet will also consider matters related to assisted decision-making for people with disabilities; access to higher education; and support for the potato industry.

Wardship system

Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman is to seek approval for the Assisted Decision-Making Capacity (Amendment) Bill designed to end the wardship system in Ireland.

The legislation would establish a new “decision support service” for anyone with an illness or disability that limits their capacity to make decisions.

According to sources, it is hoped that the new service will be up and running in July.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris is expected to bring proposals to improve access to third-level studies. These include ring-fenced higher education places for students attending further education institutions and targeted measures to improve access for mature students.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue is to seek approval for a plan to provide €3 million in funding to support the development of Ireland’s seed potato sector.

Irish farmers have traditionally imported seed potatoes for planting their crops from Britain, Scotland in particular.

Brexit means that seed potatoes can no longer be exported from Britain to the European Union as phytosanitary regulations are not aligned.

There has been concern among Irish farmers that bringing in more continental seed potatoes increases the risk of importing diseases such as brown rot, which is present in some European countries.

Mr McConalogue’s plan is aimed at supporting production of seed potatoes here through an investment scheme for specialist facilities and equipment.