Special Criminal Court renewed, review set for Offences Against the State Act

Laws underpinning the non-jury Special Criminal Court have been renewed by TDs in the Dail after the government committed to a review of the security legislation.
Special Criminal Court renewed, review set for Offences Against the State Act
Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan: Liam McBurney/PAWire
Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan: Liam McBurney/PAWire

Laws underpinning the non-jury Special Criminal Court have been renewed by TDs in the Dail after the government committed to a review of the security legislation.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan confirmed there are plans for a review of the Offences Against the State Act and the emergency legislation used to prosecute subversive groups and gangland cases.

The confirmation justice authorities will do a review comes after the Greens and Sinn Féin both indicated support for a court with special powers.

Both those parties have relaxed their opposition to laws underpinning the special criminal court on the basis that some kind of review goes ahead.

In the Dail, Mr Flanagan signalled that this review, with the next government, would be forthcoming: “I want to make clear that I am not averse to a review of this legislation. Indeed, far from it, as will become clear in the months ahead. Deputies will be aware of the intensive work taking place to implement the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.

“Work is ongoing in my department to bring forward that review and the Offences Against the State legislation will, of course, be part of it, including the provisions before us today.”

While Mr Flanagan called on parties to remove amendments to the yearly renewal of the Offences Against the State Act, debated in the Dáil, others voiced concerns about human breaches under the current court regime.

The minister added that "the stark reality is there remains some threat from terrorist activity, in particular from dissident Republican paramilitary groups".

Rise TD Paul Murphy said existing laws for the court, without a jury, were a breach of “civil liberties and human rights”. People Before Profit TD Brid Smith and Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said the Dáil should take heed of warnings about the powers from the United Nations and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

Sinn Féin abstained in the vote on the special powers, which are used to prosecute offences including membership of the IRA and other subversive groups. This is the first time they have not opposed the laws.

While some TDs called for anonymous juries for fairer hearings, other deputies warned of intimidation and the need to ramp up use of the laws against gangland activity.

Labour's Ged Nash referred to the ongoing gang feud in Drogheda, which resulted in the shocking murder of teenager Keane Mulready Woods this year. While supporting the review, he said Drogheda locals are being intimidated, including young girls pushed into selling drugs.

Green TD Roderic O'Gorman said his party supports the renewal of the laws to tackle gangs who might interfere with trials but highlighted serious “civil liberties concerns” that must be addressed with the special criminal court.

The legislation now moves to the Seanad. But the Upper House cannot approve it until a new government is formed and a remaining 11 members of the Seanad appointed. If the laws are not passed by next week and therefore lapse, the special court will cease to sit.

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