Law and order put front and centre of campaign after recent shootings

Day six of the campaign saw Sinn Féin and Gerry Adams put under significant pressure over their call to abolish the Special Criminal Court, writes Daniel McConnell

Law and order put front and centre of campaign after recent shootings

Last night’s brutal killing of Eddie Hutch in a gangland attack in Dublin’s north inner city has brought law and order to the centre of the general election campaign.

Hutch, who was gunned down, was slain by what was described as a “four-man hit squad” on Poplar Row in Ballybough.

Hutch, who was in his fifties, was well known to gardaí. He was dead by the time gardaí arrived so they did not even attempt to resuscitate him. He received a gun shot to the head.

His was the second violent murder in four days in Dublin. This shooting occurred a short distance away from the the Regency Hotel on Friday. The two killings are connected.

Sinn Féin’s promise to abolish the Special Criminal Court is set to be contained in its manifesto, which is being launched today.

The desire to abolish the non-jury court, which tries cases linked to terrorism and serious organised crime, is controversial in the wake of the brazen murder of notorious criminal David Byrne at the Regency.

While civil liberty groups and the UN have called into question the existence of the court, those advocating for its retention do so saying it is required to deal with the lingering threat from those who refused to accept the peace process and those who have used the cloak of republicanism as a cover to their sheer criminality.

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Both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton were quick out of the traps yesterday in their attacks on Sinn Féin and Adams.

Kenny, on the stump, was very forceful in his warning about what abolishing the court would mean for the country. “The people of this country would want to be very careful and take very careful note of the propositions on the table. But mark you, the security of your State, the security of your community, the security of our society is at stake here,” he said.

“We know from the past that gross intimidation of juries and witness is the normal play for those people involved in either dissident republicanism, continuity IRA, remnants of the Provisional IRA, or gangland criminals.”

Burton, who called Adams a “spokesman” for the IRA, said the Sinn Féin leader needed “a reality check”.

“[Sinn Féin is] suggesting that we would basically 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 limited in how we might protect jurors,” she said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said getting rid of the Special Criminal Court would give “solace” to the likes of the criminals who carried out the shooting last Friday.

In response, Adams said what happened at the Regency Hotel was an outrage. “I understand a group calling itself the Continuity IRA has claimed responsibility for the attack at the Regency Hotel. They are not the IRA. The IRA are gone and their weapons are gone. Enda Kenny knows that,” he said.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan are also coming in for criticism. Last night’s murder has highlighted the deficiencies in the Garda’s ability to combat gangland crime.

Fitzgerald’s claim that there was no intelligence about last Friday’s murder has been contested, given media reports a week before highlighting the potential for violence.

Fine Gael has prided itself on being the party of law and order since the foundation of the State and it will not take kindly to that mantle being undermined.

However, the closure of Garda stations and these two murders will undoubtedly call that reputation into question and Fitzgerald and her party will have to defend their actions in Government.

Fine Gael has allowed its competency on the economy to be called into question since the start of the election, and now it faces real questions as to its justice performance.

Not what Enda Kenny had planned.

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