Special powers to tackle terrorism and gangland crime to be renewed

Offences Against the State Act to remain in place due to ‘real and persistent’ threats

Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys believes there remains a substantive threat to the State from organised crime groups operating in, and into, Ireland. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys believes there remains a substantive threat to the State from organised crime groups operating in, and into, Ireland. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

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The Cabinet is expected to approve renewing the Offences Against the State Act, which provides for the non-jury Special Criminal Court, at its meeting on Tuesday.

Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys is understood to have justified the annual renewal on the grounds she considers there remains a “real and persistent threat” from “dissident” republican paramilitary groups.

It is also understood Ms Humphreys believes there remains a substantive threat to the State from organised crime groups operating in, and into, Ireland.

She is also expected to tell ministerial colleagues the special powers are required to deal with the threat of international terrorism, which leave democracies open to attack.

The emergency powers have been in place for almost half a century. It was only in this century that the definition of a threat to the State was broadened to include trials relating to organised crime. This change followed several high-profile trials where witness and jury intimidation was said to have occurred.

 

Last year, Sinn Féin changed its stance on the Act and the Special Criminal Court. For two decades, it had been calling for the court to be abolished primarily because it was used as a vehicle to prosecute IRA members and for its non-jury nature.

Abstained

However, last year it abstained in the Dáil vote after its justice spokesman Martin Kenny said the party accepted special powers were needed to tackle gangland crime.

The Green Party in Opposition had also called for the court to be abolished but it too signalled a change of position during the general election in February 2020.

Last year, the Government agreed to begin an independent review of the Act and the Court, the first in 20 years.

The review group began its work in March and an interim report is expected later in June. The group’s final report will not be completed until the end of 2021, or early 2022, it is understood.

Another important amendment in the Act was made in the wake of the Omagh bombing atrocity in 1998, which made “directing an unlawful organisation” a crime.