Sinn Féin abstains for first time in Offences Against State Act renewal vote
Flanagan pledges independent review of Special Criminal Court legislation
The Dáil was told on Wednesday that the view of the gardaí was that there remains ‘a real and persistent threat from republican paramilitary groups on this island’. Photograph: PA
For the first time since Sinn Féin entered the Dáil in 1997, the party has abstained in a vote on the renewal of controversial Offences Against the State Act.
The party’s decision came after Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan promised that a proposed review of the legislation would be independent.
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Martin Kenny welcomed the Minister’s commitment to an independent review but said he was disappointed there was no deadline on the review.
Sinn Féin has called for the past 20 years for the special Criminal Court to be abolished mainly because it was initially used to prosecute IRA members. The party’s objections now are focused on the fact that it is a non-jury court.
The legislation provides for the non-jury Special Criminal Court and along with the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act of 1998 is used in the trials of subversives and in gangland crime cases.
As emergency legislation both Acts are renewed annually and both passed in separate votes by 32 to three with two abstentions.
There is added urgency as the renewal of both Acts must be completed before June 30th.
An amendment to the legislation proposed by the Social Democrats was defeated, as was an amendment by Independent TD Michael McNamara, who called for the legislation to be reviewed by the Law Reform Commission.
Mr Flanagan said the debate each year on the legislation was not “rubber stamping”.
He said “none of us can be blind to the threat posed to the criminal process by individuals, terrorists and organised criminal groups who seek to subvert the system through intimidation of citizens”.
He said the view of the Garda was that there remains “a real and persistent threat from republican paramilitary groups on this island”.
Mr Flanagan said the “fine details of the review can be worked out by the incoming government” but said a review of this nature “will indeed require a significant body of work”.
The Minister added: “It will be independent, comprehensive. The arrangements are currently being scoped” and work was being done in line with the report on the future of policing in Ireland.”
Mr Kenny said what was meant to be temporary legislation had become permanent by renewing it every year.
“That is not appropriate and I think the Minister would have acknowledged that that is not appropriate.
“We need to have sound legislation that doesn’t require a review every year. The fact that we’re here on the brink of a deadline which is next Monday night at midnight, and we’re talking about this I think highlights the reality of the absurdity of the situation.”
The Green Party has on occasion opposed renewal of the legislation but its justice spokesman Roderic O’Gorman said on Wednesday the party supported the renewal.
“We are now faced with a serious and significant threat from criminal gangs, some of which are international in their reach”.
He referenced a series of arson attacks on the homes of gardaí and the “ongoing campaign of intimidation harassment against members of Quinn Industrial Holdings - arson attacks, assaults, criminal damage, culminating in the brutal kidnapping and torture of Kevin Lunney.”
“It’s through fear, intimidation and violence that criminal gangs seek to operate.”
Labour’s Ged Nash referred to the case of the “two gangs at war over the drug trade in my own hometown have wreaked havoc over the last two years and more” in Drogheda.
The legislation must also be renewed by the Seanad which is abeyance pending the appointment of the new taoiseach’s nominees