Wednesday 29 March 2017

SF plan to scrap juryless court will place jurors' lives at risk - Shatter

Fine Gael's Alan Shatter. Photo: Frank McGrath
Fine Gael's Alan Shatter. Photo: Frank McGrath
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor and John Brennan

A former justice minister has said Sinn Féin's commitment to abolish the Special Criminal Court would put the lives of jurors and gardaí at risk.

Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter last night said the use of the court had been essential in ensuring terrorists and members of criminal gangs were brought to justice.

Mr Shatter was responding to a commitment by Sinn Féin's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald to abolish the juryless court if in government.

"The Special Criminal [Court] has been absolutely crucial in ensuring the protection and preventing intimidation of jurors," he said.

The decision on whether a case is heard before the juryless court is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions .

The controversial proposal to abolish the court was confirmed as the party leadership continued to dodge questions on Thomas 'Slab' Murphy, who was recently described by a British soldier as having ordered "the killing of many people".

Ms McDonald also repeatedly avoided answering when asked if she still stood over her statement that Murphy, a former IRA leader who faces up to five years in prison for tax fraud, is still a "good republican".

But asked if the Special Criminal Court proposal would be contained in the Sinn Féin election manifesto, Ms McDonald said: "It will of course. That has been our consistent position."

She added that it is a "universally accepted democratic norm that people have fair procedures and jury trials".

But there was widespread shock in political circles at the claim.

Fianna Fáil senator Thomas Byrne said abolishing the court would be "extremely dangerous".

"We need to protect juries," he said.

Ms McDonald and party leader Gerry Adams also brushed off questions about Murphy on the campaign trail yesterday.

It came after BBC 'Spotlight' broadcast an interview with a British soldier who alleged that Murphy ordered murders to be carried out by the IRA.

"Tom Murphy, like everybody else, has to pay their taxes," she said.

"That is the position. The courts will deal with that matter. And I have nothing further to say on it," Ms McDonald added.

Refusing

On the campaign trail in his constituency of Louth, Mr Adams denied he was dodging questions on the issue - despite refusing to answer questions the previous day.

"Everybody has a duty to pay tax. Tom Murphy has been charged with a failure to make tax returns, he is contesting that," Mr Adams said.

"He was tried at a non-jury court. He should have been tried at a court of their peers - far from dodging the question, I have faced up to the question," he added.

Murphy is due to be sentenced at the Special Criminal Court in the coming days.

Irish Independent

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