By David Raleigh
Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has today warned against Sinn Féin's proposal to abolish the Special Criminal Court, saying it has been a "vital factor" in jailing criminals.
The Labour TD admitted her own seat was under threat from Sinn Fein's Maurice Quinlivan, a sitting councillor on Limerick's joint local authority, who has been polling above the Minister in the four-seat Limerick constituency.
Sinn Féin has called for the abolition of the non-jury Special Criminal Court, normally reserved for trials of dissident provisionals, and which was then implemented for gangland trials after Limerick had problems selecting juries for such cases because of widespread fear and intimidation.
"In Limerick, by and large, Gardaí have a lid on it, and that's to the credit of Gardaí in Limerick," Minster O'Sullivan said.
"But, there is a real fear now - that with the possibility of Sinn Féin in being in government, and the possibility of them having significant numbers of seats - that the Special Criminal Charges Court could be dismantled, and that there would be people in power who would be very close to somebody like 'Slab' Murphy, who (Sinn Féin) failed to condemn, despite his criminal record.
"Gerry Adams, and Mary Lou McDonald, have been equally equivalent on that, and have not condemned him.
"They can't aspire to be in government and at the same time to be supporting people who have clearly broken the law, and that they are not willing to condemn their actions or distance themselves from people like 'Slab' Murphy."
Gerry Adams previously criticised the fact that Mr Murphy's case "involving a failure to complete tax returns is heard before a non-jury court".
He added: "I have been asked if I consider Tom Murphy a good republican. The answer to that is yes."
The Minister said the Special Criminal Court "has been a vital factor in terms of putting away people who have led crime in Limerick that has been extremely damaging and dangerous to our community".
Asked if she saw Sinn Féin's call for the abolition of the court as a threat to the prosecution of leaders of criminal gangs, Minister O'Sullivan said: "I do".
She said the success of fighting gangland crime in Limerick was down to the work of Gardaí but also because "there was a court where people could be brought to, where juries would not be intimidated."
"We need to ensure that that continues," she added.
Responding to Minister O'Sullivan's remarks, Cllr Maurice Quinlivan said: "If Jan is coming out with comments like that, it just shows how desperate she really is."
Cllr Quinlivan - whose brother Nessan was convicted of gun offences at the Special Criminal Court and later freed from Portlaoise Prison in November 1995 as part of the Government's early-release programme for republican prisoners following the 1994 IRA ceasefire - said he supported the abolition of the Special Criminal Court.
"We agree with what the U.N. and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties say - the court should be abolished," Cllr Quinlivan said.
"There is a better way," he added.
"It's not like we would abolish it in the morning," he said, adding, "I believe that the views of Amnesty International; the U.N.; and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties should be taken into account."
Speaking at her election campaign launch this morning in her native Limerick, Minister O’Sullivan also said Dublin gardaí need to "get more in control" of "clever" gangland criminals, whom the minister said were, "outwitting the forces of law and order".
Her comments come on the back of two gangland murders in two days in Dublin.
"There are always going to be challenges around gangland criminals, and while Gardaí have got on top of it in Limerick, clearly there is a need in Dublin to get more control of the situation," she said.
Asked to comment on the killings in Dublin, the Minister added: "Policing is very difficult of people like that because they protect themselves and have people around them who clearly are clever at outwitting the forces of law and order.
"Certainly there are issues that need to be addressed in terms of the protection of the people in those communities in Dublin."