Gardai arrest dozens of gang suspects under tough new laws
A TOTAL of 69 criminal suspects have been arrested since the introduction of tough new anti-gangland laws.
Non-jury trials of gangland crime suspects are to remain in operation for another year because of regular attempts to intimidate jurors.
Legislation to allow the Special Criminal Court to be used for gangland trials was given the go-ahead yesterday after an Oireachtas committee heard of the continuing threat posed by the gunmen.
Laws brought in last summer to tackle gang leaders and their associates are also to be renewed.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice yesterday that 69 people had been arrested so far under the gangland laws.
Two of the suspects were charged with directing a criminal organisation, an offence that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Six others were charged with taking part in or contributing to a criminal organisation.
The arrests have also resulted in charges related to a range of other serious offences, including possession of firearms, drug trafficking, threats to kill, theft, demanding money with menaces and aggravated burglary.
It is understood the DPP is considering a number of other garda files recommending further gangland charges.
Mr Ahern said he had brought forward the measures contained in the 2009 act to take further action to curb the levels of violence by gangs.
He wanted to target those who directed the gangs as well as their associates.
The measures also created a new offence of controlling or directing a criminal organisation; increased the maximum penalty for participating or being involved in organised crime; gave the court power to draw inferences from failure to answer questions or account for movements, actions, activities or associations; and increased the penalty for intimidation of a juror or witness from 10 years' to 15 years' imprisonment.
Mr Ahern said these measures, together with the 2009 Surveillance Act, had been invaluable in helping gardai tackle organised crime.
"Organised crime continues to present a significant problem in the State as there are a number of criminal gangs, which continue to engage in serious crimes," he added.
"There is, unfortunately, plenty of evidence of the willingness of these gangs to engage in murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, drug smuggling, counterfeiting and other serious offences."
The minister said he did not expect instant results. He said Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy held a clear view that the Special Criminal Court was likely to be required for some time.
"It is absolutely essential to ensure that the gardai have the best possible range of powers at their disposal to face up to organised crime gangs," he said.
The committee recommended the measures be renewed for another year. This will be formally supported by the Dail next week.