Fitzgerald plans three new laws to crack down on dissident threat
THREE new terrorism offences are being created as part of the Government's plan to beef up its arsenal of legislative weapons against dissident republicans.
New legislation will strike at those recruiting or training new members for terror groups, and those provoking others to commit terrorist acts, with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
This is the most significant crackdown on home-grown terrorism by the Government since the highly successful package introduced in the wake of the Omagh bomb atrocity, which killed 29 people in August 1998.
That legislation led to the leader of the group responsible for the Omagh blast, Michael McKevitt, being jailed for 20 years for the new offence of directing terrorism.
The Dail has already approved the renewal of powers contained in the Omagh legislation for a further year.
Now Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald intends to pilot a Bill through the Dail and Seanad creating the three new offences.
The proposed new offences are public provocation to commit a terrorist offence, recruitment for terrorism, and training for terrorism.
The minister said the Garda assessment, shared by the PSNI, was that the terrorist threat level in Northern Ireland was regarded as "severe".
Last year there were 30 terrorist related attacks in the North, and five so far this year. These included planting a bomb in a Belfast shopping centre in the run up to Christmas and fire bombing a hotel in Derry.
On this side of the Border, there has also been significant terrorist activity.
Gardai seized an estimated €10m in partially forged banknotes in April, detected a large home-made bomb in May, and disrupted a Real IRA gun attack in Tallaght in June.
It is expected that Ms Fitzgerald's Bill will be on the agenda for tomorrow's Cabinet meeting.
The new legislation will also allow Ireland to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism.
The provocation offence will be committed by anybody who distributes or communicates a message with the intention of encouraging, directly or indirectly, a terrorist activity.
This would apply to dissident leaders, who use public orations or interviews, to incite others to break the law.
Summary conviction of this offence in the district court can result in one year's imprisonment and a fine of up to €5,000 and 10 years in jail, if convicted of an indictable offence in the Special Criminal Court.
A suspect can be found guilty of the second new measure if they recruit, or attempt to recruit, another to take part in terrorist activity. This will also carry a maximum 10-year jail sentence.
The third offence will be committed where a person provides instruction or training in the skills of making or using firearms or explosives, knowing that the skills provided are intended to be used for the purpose of terrorist activity.
It will also cover nuclear material, biological, chemical or prohibited weapons – or others such as noxious or hazardous substances.
It also covers training in techniques or methods for terrorist use, and it too carries a jail sentence of up to 10 years.
On the renewal of the Omagh legislation, Ms Fitzgerald said the 1998 blast represented a direct attack on the fragile peace process and on the State as a major sponsor of the process.
She said it demanded a robust response from the State and a clear statement that the morally bankrupt culture of death and destruction, adopted by those murderers, would not prevail and that the will of the majority could not be so contemptuously disregarded.
Those responsible for the murders, she pointed out, continued today to deny the people of this island the peace, which they long sought and deserved.