Sinn Féin abstains from voting on special criminal court

Sinn Féin abstains from voting on special criminal court

Former member of the Defence Forces Lisa Smith arriving at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin in January. The idea that IS could subvert a trial in Ireland is farcical, says Independent TD Michael MacNamara. Picture: PA 

Sinn Féin has not opposed renewing the law underpinning the Special Criminal Court for the second year in a row.

The party had been staunchly opposed to the non-jury court until 2020 when TDs first abstained on the proviso that the court's use be reviewed. In October, the party passed a motion backing the use of non-jury courts.

Adopting that motion means Sinn Féin would, in government, commit to the option of using the court where required in exceptional circumstances.

During a Dáil debate on the renewal of the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 for a further year on Wednesday, party Justice spokesperson Martin Kenny said that he was disappointed the review of the court was not complete.

However, he said that he has maintained contact with the secretariat of the review group and "understands its work is continuing and that the final report will be concluded shortly".

"In that context, we will not oppose this legislation on the basis the report will be published and that reform of this law will be an obligation of the minister to be delivered in the coming year."

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said that Sinn Féin had dropped its opposition "in preparation for government".

Justice Minister Helen McEntee, who established the expert review group into the non-jury court, said that it continues to play a role in the Irish judicial system.

"It is the case that the jury trial should be preserved to the greatest extent possible. However, we cannot ignore the threat posed to the criminal process by terrorist groups and organised criminal groups who seek to intimidate jurors or potential jurors. The Special Criminal Court continues to play a necessary and important role in the State's criminal justice architecture in dealing with terrorism and the most serious organised crime cases."

Independent Clare TD Michael MacNamara said that he was "perplexed" by "having the same debate year in, year out". He said that the use of the Special Criminal Court to try former IS member Lisa Smith was inappropriate.

"The idea that Islamic State could subvert a trial in Ireland I find either farcical or deeply worrying , take your pick. Neither is a vindication of the current system," he said.

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