The speedy prosecution of Kinahan cartel “hit teams” through the Special Criminal Court is one of the reasons why the controversial non-jury court should be retained, An Garda Siochána’s top crime chief has said.
Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll said that “at least” three to four cartel hit teams have been taken out, resulting in a dramatic reduction in death squads operating and a sharp fall in gangland murders.
The head of Serious and Organised Crime said the Special Criminal Court — the future of which is currently under the microscope of a high-level review — was “arguably subject to a greater level of scrutiny” than ordinary courts.
In a lengthy interview with the, the veteran officer also said:
- The arrest in Spain of Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch for the murder at the Regency Hotel in February 2016 should be treated with “considerable caution” as it was still only a charge and that “he may be found innocent”;
- Gardaí were “continuously gathering evidence to take out further people” but said he could not be specific about Daniel Kinahan or other Kinahan cartel bosses;
- The Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (DOCB) was “clearly on the right road” to totally dismantling the Kinahan cartel and mass convictions have had a “significant disruption” on it.
Assistant Commissioner O’Driscoll said that, since the start of 2019, the DOCB has secured at least 27 convictions in the Special Criminal Court, including against cartel assassination squads following ‘threat to life’ interventions by the bureau.
“We have taken a number of hit teams out,” the police chief said. “It’s probably more than three to four and we also have hitmen.”
He said: “Regarding hit teams, I argued at the very beginning of putting resources into this, before we caught the first hit team, I said there are only so many people who will murder in these circumstances. I believe that has proven to be the case.”
The figures show there were 20 ‘threat to life’ interventions in 2016 and 26 in 2017. They halved to 13 in 2018, 14 in 2019, just two in 2020 and one so far this year.
Assistant Commissioner O’Driscoll said gangland murders have also dropped dramatically.
On the Special Criminal Court (SCC), he said: “The argument, if we are correct — that we’ve had a huge impact on reducing threat to life incidents — had we been dependent on the ordinary courts and not created a second SCC, some of the trials in these cases might not be taking place for another three years.
"Therefore, arguably, the feud would have gone on longer, the deaths would have continued and we wouldn’t have been able to bring these people to trial, let alone have convictions. It all adds to the argument of continuing the court.”
He said the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau had to meet the same standards in the SCC as in the ordinary courts.
He said evidence accepted in the SCC for subversives — ‘opinion evidence’ of a chief superintendent that a defendant is a member of a paramilitary organisation — does not apply to crime.
He said the legislation underpinning the SCC is subject to the “scrutiny” of the Dáil every year and said the very high level of guilty pleas in the SCC “should be very reassuring” to the public.
The Assistant Commissioner said that, unlike jury trials, if a defendant in the SCC is acquitted, a written judgement is given, which could detail defects in the prosecution case: “Arguably, there’s a greater level of scrutiny in the Special Criminal Court.”
A range of domestic and international bodies have opposed or expressed serious concern about the SCC, including the UN Human Rights Committee, various UN special rapporteurs, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty.
A Government-ordered review of the SCC and underpinning legislation is led by Mr Justice Michael Peart.