Plans by Sinn Féin to abolish the Special Criminal Court would “disable” gardaí when fighting crime and limit witnesses testifying against criminals, according to Tánaiste Joan Burton.
Sinn Féin is expected to publish its general election manifesto today, in which it will include proposals to scrap the special court.
A call by party leader Gerry Adams to abolish the court comes ahead of the sentencing of republican Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy this week after he was recently convicted by it of nine counts of tax fraud.
Both Ms Burton and Taoiseach Enda Kenny criticised the call from Mr Adams, particularly in the wake of a gun attack at Dublin’s Regency Hotel.
Dissident republicans have claimed responsibility for the armed siege on the hotel, which saw gunmen parading as gardaí shoot and kill gangland criminal David Byrne.
Mr Kenny said the suggestion to abolish the court was “outrageous”.
Ms Burton said that Mr Adams needed a “reality check” as she defended the use of the court.
“I think that Gerry Adams needs a reality check. I know he has been the spokesperson of the republican movement and the IRA over a long period of time,” said Ms Burton.
“The decent communities in different parts of Limerick and different parts of Dublin, they can be absolutely terrorised by criminal gangs who hold sway like overlords unless they can be brought to justice and face the courts, face the judge and face the trial on the kind of crime, outrage that was committed at the Regency Hotel.
“[Sinn Féin is] basically suggesting that we would disable our gardaí and have them fight crime with not just one hand behind their backs, but two hands behind their backs, because they would be heavily limited in getting witnesses to go to court and seriously in how we might protect jurors.”
However, Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty backed Mr Adams, pointing to previous concerns raised about the court by former president Mary Robinson and the UN.
The Donegal TD said Sinn Féin supported positions taken up by Amnesty International, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and a UN committee on the issue. He backed Mr Adams’ suggestion that other methods could be used to prosecute cases instead of non-jury trials.
“The alternative is having anonymous juries, juries behind screens, the other option is juries hearing evidence from video link, that’s what happening in other jurisdictions in Europe and elsewhere,” said Mr Doherty.
“Is the Taoiseach genuinely attacking the UN, are they attacking the ICCL? Are they attacking the opinion of the former president Mary Robinson on this issue, are they attacking Amnesty International on this issue?
“They’re not. They’re trying to play political football because we’re in the middle of an election campaign.”
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