Gardaí have trebled their arrests under ‘gangland’ legislation in the last year, as the force has dramatically escalated its deployment of the powers.
A Government report on special laws introduced to target organised crime gangs show the number of arrests has jumped from 24 to 72.
Garda HQ told the Irish Examiner that the sharp rise in arrests is partly because the legislation has proved to be effective in prosecuting criminal networks.
The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 provides for a range of specific offences, including participating in, or directing, gang activities, to be prosecuted in the non-jury Special Criminal Court.
The 2009 act amended the Criminal Justice Act 2006.
An official report covering the period June 2019 to May 2020 shows there were:
- 72 arrests, including 29 arrests for participating in a criminal gang (Section 72 of the act), and 43 arrests for committing an offence for a criminal organisation (Section 73);
- That compares to 24 arrests in the previous year (June 2018 to May 2019), including 20 Section 72 offences and four Section 73 offences;
- 19 arrests in 2017-2018, 33 arrests in 2016 to 2017 and 17 arrests 2015 to 2016.
The trebling in arrests in the year ending May 2020 is driven by a 10-fold rise in arrests under Section 73.
Under this provision, a person can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison if they are found guilty of committing a serious offence “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with” a criminal organisation.
Section 72 relates to participating in, or contributing to, a criminal organisation and is also punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Under Section 8 of the 2009 act, these offences, and others, including directing a criminal organisation, are scheduled offences under the Offences Against the State Act 1939, meaning they are automatically prosecuted in the non-jury court, unless otherwise decided by the DPP.
Garda HQ said that Section 8 of the 2009 act remained a “vital legislative provision” to combat organised crime.
The statement added: “The increase in the number of arrests under part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2006 represents the continued determination of An Garda Síochána to tackle serious and organised criminals that cause the most harm to communities, and that the use of the legislation has proved to be effective in tackling organised crime groups operating at the highest level of organised crime.”
The Special Criminal Court has attracted criticism over many years from rights' bodies, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Amnesty and the UN Human Rights Committee.
Last month, the Dáil renewed emergency legislation, including the 2009 act, after the Government agreed to a review of laws underpinning the court.